SURGEONS left behind more than 300 instruments and pieces of equipment in patients' bodies in Scottish hospitals over the past five years.
Since 2004, at least 280 patients had to be re-admitted to hospitals to have "foreign objects" extracted from them, figures released by the Scottish Government have revealed.
While health boards have refused to release details of individual cases, most incidents are understood to have involved small items such as needles and swabs.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde reported the largest number of cases, with 70 patients going back to hospital after objects were left inside them. NHS Lothian reported 28 cases over the same period, followed by Fife (25), Grampian and Ayrshire and Arran (both 21), Lanarkshire (19), Highland (13), and Forth Valley and Tayside (both 12).
The exact spread of the problem is not known because boards with fewer than five cases a year refuse to publish the data, citing patient confidentiality.
The mistakes took place despite the introduction of more stringent procedures designed to prevent equipment being left in patients.
Every item used is now marked on a whiteboard and should be counted off at the end of the operation. If any object is thought to have been left in a patient, they should be X-rayed.
Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patients Association, said: "Somebody isn't tying up their end of the job. They are obviously not double-checking they have all of the instruments at the end of the operation.
"There should be action taken against health staff if they are negligent. It is serious – these are people's lives we are dealing with."
A Glasgow-based surgeon, who asked not to be named, said he was "surprised" by the number of incidents in Scotland.
He said problems were most likely during abdominal surgery: "There is a large cavity so it is possible for things to get lost out of sight and then impossible to find if there is an error in counting."
The new figures were revealed in a parliamentary answer by Nicola Sturgeon, the health secretary, only weeks after NHS figures showed patients underwent more than 5,500 botched operations in Scotland over the same period.
Despite the figures, Scotland's NHS boards insisted that cases of foreign objects being left in patients were extremely rare. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said the rate of incidents of this kind was low, at one in every 1,000 procedures.
An NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde spokesman said: "All significant clinical incidents are subject to intensive investigation at a local level and, at a local and national level, surgical activity is subject to routine audit."