An increasing number of medical foreign objects, including wire cutters, scalpel blades and drill bits, have been left inside hospital patients after surgery in Englandreveal new numbers.
Errors involving a “foreign object accidentally left in the body during surgical and medical care” led to 291 “terminated consultant episodes” in 2021-2022, official data shows.
The National Health Service The digital data does not clarify when or where the patient’s initial operation was performed, or whether it was in the NHS or in a private hospital. Sometimes such medical errors are not discovered until weeks, months, or years after the event.
The PA Mean analysis found that 291 cases was the highest annual total recorded in more than 20 years. It comes as the NHS is facing intense pressure and seeing more patients than ever before.
Last year’s all-time high was more than double the lowest total in the past two decades, when doctors recorded 138 episodes in 2003-2004. There were 156 foreign object cases in 2001-2002.
Items left inside patients included swabs, gauze and even surgical devices, including drill bits. Last year, the average age of patients with something inside them after surgery was 57. The errors affected a wide age range, from infants to patients over 90 years of age.
Strict procedures are in place in hospitals to avoid such errors, including checklists and repeated counting of surgical tools. Leaving an object inside a patient after surgery is classified as a “never event” by the NHS, meaning the incident is so serious that it should never have happened.
Rachel Power, CEO of the Patient Association, said: “Events are never called events because they are serious incidents that are completely preventable because the hospital or clinic has systems in place to prevent them from happening.
“The serious physical and psychological effects they cause can stay with a patient for the rest of their life, and that should never happen to anyone seeking treatment on the NHS.
“While we fully appreciate the crisis facing the NHS, never events simply should not happen if preventative measures are put in place.”
A 49-year-old woman from east London said she had “lost hope” after part of a surgical scalpel was left inside her after an operation to remove her ovaries in 2016.
“When I woke up, I felt something in my belly,” she said. “The knife they used to cut me broke and they left part of it in my belly.”
It was left inside her for five days, leading to an additional two-week hospital stay.
Emmalene Bushnell and Kriya Hurley, of the Leigh Day law firm, which represented the woman, said: “Unfortunately, we continue to see cases of objects being retained after surgery, resulting in patients being readmitted to hospital, undergoing to a second surgery, suffer sepsis or infection, or experience a fistula or intestinal obstruction, visceral perforation, and psychological harm.
An NHS spokesperson said: “Thanks to the hard work of NHS staff, incidents like these are rare.
“However, when they do happen, the NHS is committed to learning from them to improve care for future patients.”