Dozens of swabs and surgical instruments left inside patients

FORCEPS, needles, fragments of a bone drill and swabs are among an array of objects left inside patients in Scotland following operations.

Some patients also had organs punctured accidentally while in operating theatres and some even left hospital with swabs inside them after surgery in the last two years.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Scotland's largest health board, said six patients left hospital with swabs inside their bodies, out of a total of 12 who had objects left inside them after surgery since January 2008.

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NHS Borders said forceps, which are typically between six and eight inches long, were left inside an adult patient at Borders General Hospital in June. In May, the bladder of an adult patient at the same hospital was torn accidentally during a hysterectomy.

Eight incidents were recorded by NHS Grampian between January 2008 and February 2010, with objects left inside or assumed to have been left inside patients.

In six recorded accidents in NHS Grampian, uteruses were punctured on five occasions and a patient's testicles were punctured in one case.

Health boards insisted they had checks in place. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "All swabs and instruments are counted in and out during every open operative procedure.

"During the operation, the counts are recorded on a wall board in theatre. Several counts are done during the procedure and a final count at the end to ensure all is present and correct.

"The final count is documented by the two members of nursing staff. However, the system has not worked on these particular occasions. All such incidents are reported within the organisation and undergo an investigation."

Dr Jean Turner, executive director of the Scotland Patients Association, said: "Patients expect to be safe at all times but especially when they are in an operating theatre under anaesthetic.

"The utmost care should be taken by all theatre staff, to make sure that all swabs and instruments are counted at the start and match the count at the end before closing the wound.

"These checks, to my knowledge, are routine.

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"No patient should have to endure another operation or have their life put at risk because the pre- and post- checks are not rigorously carried out."

The details were released after a freedom of information request to all 14 health boards in Scotland.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Our Scottish Patient Safety Programme is driving up standards.

"It's about enabling staff to ensure that every single process they need to carry out to care for a patient is done every single time.

"It's about the reliable application of best practice. And it is about making the best use of the commitment of NHS staff to improve care for every patient."

How does your health board compare?

1) Shetland

No objects were left inside patients following surgery. No organs were accidentally punctured during surgery.

2) Orkney

Two cases of patients' organs being accidentally punctured during surgery have been recorded.

3) Western Isles

No objects were left inside patients. No organs were accidentally punctured.

4) Highland

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A swab from a suture pack was left inside a patient in 2008 and a needle was left inside a person in 2009.

5) Grampian

Eight cases of objects left inside (or assumed to have been left inside) patients during surgery, such as "minute" fragments of a bone drill and fragments of tubing, needles and swabs. There were six cases of patients' organs being accidentally punctured.

6) Tayside

Eight objects have been left inside adult patients since January 2008, including part of guide wire and part of needle.

7) Fife

A 21cm-long tissue bag was left inside a patient during surgery. Between May 2008 and December 2009, nine patients had organs – including bladder, uterus, bowel and trachea – accidentally punctured during surgery.

8) Greater Glasgow and Clyde

A total of 12 objects were left inside 12 patients during surgery. Six people left hospital with swabs inside them. Three people became unwell because of the object inside them.

9) Forth Valley

Does not keep a record of organs accidentally punctured during surgery.

10) Lanarkshire

Ten patients had a "foreign body" left inside during surgery, such as a swab, needle parts and material used to stitch tissue. No patients left hospital with objects inside them.

11) Lothian

A total of 52 cases were reported under the "swab/incident/needle-count wrong" category. Five cases of a swab being left within patients during surgery recorded.

12) Ayrshire and Arran

Three cases of organs accidentally punctured.

13) Borders

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One case of an object (forceps) left inside patient during surgery. One case of an organ punctured.

14) Dumfries and Galloway

Since January 2008, five adult patients have had objects left inside them during surgery, including a vaginal swab discovered after the patient left hospital. Five people had their organs punctured during surgery.