Blundering surgeons sending patients home with foreign objects stitched up inside

Surgeons at work
Surgeons at work
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A SNAPPED piece of hook, a plastic tube, needles and swabs are among the items that have been left inside patients following surgery in the Lothians.

Figures revealed under the Freedom of Information Act have shown that since 2006 at least 19 patients have been sewn up or discharged with foreign bodies inside them following NHS Lothian 

Although on some occasions surgeons knew the items had been left inside patients, other blunders were only discovered after patients began to complain of pain or other medics found equipment which had been mistakenly left inside patients during previous operations.

On one occasion last year, a patient in pain was given a scan which revealed that a swab had been left in their abdomen, resulting in them being taken back into theatre as an emergency. It is believed that the swab had been there since an 
operation to treat prostate cancer the year before.

There was also a case in 2011 where a patient’s chest had to be opened up for a second time to remove a swab which had been left there by mistake.

The victims of the mishaps are informed of the mistakes and generally receive an apology from the health board, but Dr Jean Turner, executive director of the Scotland Patients Association and a former anaesthetist, said the dangers of leaving items inside patients should not be underestimated.

“This might not seem like a large number but any unnecessary operation is not good for the patient – there is always a risk attached.

“It’s NHS Lothian’s responsibility to check the reasons for the incidents and how they can prevent it 
happening again.”

The three incidents of items being left inside bodies in 2011 followed one in 2010, one in 2009, five in 2008, four in 2007 and four in 2006. Already this year, at least one NHS Lothian patient has had to be operated on for a second time to remove a swab which was left inside their bodies following a operation at the Western General Hospital.

In one case in 2007, a gynaecologist discovered two swabs inside a patient which had been in place since a previous procedure and also that year, a needle was lost in another patient during a bypass operation.

In 2008, a medical worker who was changing a dressing made a shock 
discovery when a surgical swab “worked itself up” from inside the patient to the entrance of the wound.

In the same year, a needle was dropped into the patient’s left side and proved inaccessible while a swab is believed to have entered a patient’s main wound during heart bypass surgery in 2009.

Dr David Farquharson, NHS Lothian’s medical director, said: “Around 76,400 patients underwent a procedure in NHS Lothian last year and it is very rare that an item will be left in a patient following an operation.

“Any such incident is a concern and on the unusual occasions that an item has been left in a patient or is discovered missing, a full investigation is carried out and policy is revised as required.”