Number of Surgical Tools Left Inside Patients Hits Record High

New data shows significant increase in post-surgery errors

Research from the PA news agency has revealed that surgical items were left in patients’ bodies on 291 separate occasions in 2021/22. This is nearly double the number in 2001/2 when 156 of these incidents were recorded.

Among the most common surgical tools left inside patients were swabs and gauzes. But in rarer cases, drill fragments and scalpel bits have also been found.

Often these items are left undiscovered for weeks, months or even years after a patient undergoes surgery. This can be extremely dangerous as some tools will harbour bacteria which can lead to infection. Other sharper items could also cause injury to internal organs if not removed.

Impact on the patients affected

Having to undergo surgery is a daunting prospect for most people. And while the majority of surgeries go ahead without any issues, when things go wrong the impact on patients can be devastating.

As well as the physical risks posed by items left in the body, the psychological damage caused can be life-long. One woman who was interviewed described how she “lost faith” in medical professionals after part of a surgical blade was left in her body following an operation.

In most cases where a foreign object has been left in the body, a further surgery will be needed to take it out. This can cause more stress for patients who are faced with undergoing another procedure after their previous surgery experience.

Surgical items being left inside patients should be a “never event”

Never events refer to incidents that should never occur within a healthcare environment as they are entirely preventable with the right safety measures in place. Surgical errors are included in this category, but this hasn’t stopped them from happening.   

Earlier findings released by PA in May 2022 revealed that 407 never events were recorded in the NHS from April 2021 to March 2022. This included instances of broken wire cutters, scalpel blades and bolts being left inside patients’ bodies.

An NHS spokesperson has insisted that incidents like this are still relatively rare, but added that “when they do happen, the NHS is committed to learning from them to improve care for future patients”.

If you or a loved one has been affected by a surgical error, our expert medical negligence solicitors may be able to help.

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