Number of surgical tools left inside patients at hospital reaches high

The number of ‘foreign objects’ accidentally left inside the body during surgical and medical care was 291 last year (Picture: Getty Images)

The number of tools accidentally left inside patients during surgery or procedures has almost doubled in two decades, it was revealed.

New data analysis showed the number of ‘foreign objects accidentally left in body during surgical and medical care’ was 291 in the 2021 to 2022 year.

This included swabs, gauze and on rare occasions, surgical devices such as drill bits or scalpels.

Twenty years ago in 2001 to 2022, there were 156 of these instances.

A woman from east London, who chose to remain anonymous, spoke of her experience after an operation to remove her ovaries in 2016.

The 49-year-old said: ‘When I woke up, I felt something in my belly. The knife they used to cut me broke and they left part in my belly.

‘I was weak, I lost so much blood, I was in pain, all I could do was cry.’

She said the part of the blade was left inside her for five days, which meant she was in hospital for an extra two weeks and she was left with a scar after further surgery.

The lowest number was in 2003 to 2004, which saw 138 incidents recorded (Picture: PA)

‘I lost hope, I lost faith in them, I don’t trust them anymore,’ she added.

‘Every time I look at my belly it’s there.’

Emmalene Bushnell and Kriya Hurley, from the medical negligence department at the law firm Leigh Day which represented the woman, said in a statement: ‘Undergoing surgery is obviously very worrying for any patient but in cases of retained foreign objects they often lead to significant harm to the patient.

‘Unfortunately, we continue to see cases of retained objects post-surgery resulting in patients being readmitted to hospital, having a second surgery, suffering sepsis or infection, experiencing a fistula or bowel obstruction, visceral perforation, and psychological harm.

‘These events, known as never events, should not occur and we welcome any steps to reduce the incidence of retained objects.’

More than 20 years of hospital data in England was analysed by the PA news agency.

Gp surgery gives stool sample kit to a patient - but it had already been used (Picture: Getty)

Strict procedures such as checklists and counting surgical tools is intended to prevent these kinds of incidents (Picture: Getty Images)

The lowest number was in 2003 to 2004 – which saw 138 incidents recorded.

The average age of patients with something left inside them was 57 last year, but there was a broad age range from babies to the elderly over 90.

It has recently been reported how the NHS has come under increased pressure over the winter period.

And this hospital data shows 1.5 million ‘consultant episodes’ took place in 2021 to 2022, compared with 840,000 two decades earlier.

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.

‘Last year, the NHS published new guidance introducing a significant shift in the way the NHS responds to patient safety incidents, which will help organisations increase their focus on understanding how incidents happen and taking steps to make improvements.’

Strict procedures such as checklists and counting surgical tools are intended to prevent this kind of incident occurring.

Leaving an object inside a patient after surgery is what the NHS calls a ‘never event’ – meaning it is so serious it should never have happened.

Sometimes the mistakes were not discovered for several weeks, months or years afterwards.

The data however does not separate NHS and private care, and could include several reports recorded for one incident, e.g. if the affected person visits hospital multiple times.

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