5 June 2013

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'Left Over Surgery Items' Or 'Didn't We Start With More Forceps?'

Every surgical procedure carries risks and most of these are pretty obvious, even to the non-medically trained among us. But that's fine and the risks stay low because the people doing those surgical procedures are highly-trained experts with sharp minds, steady hands and countless hours of practice under their collective belts. So far, so safe – but there is one trait shared by all those surgeons that can't be ignored. They're all human, and as the 18th century poet Alexander Pope noted, "To err is human". And when surgeons err, they can leave you with a surgical legacy that is all sewn up – literally. We're going to have a look at those times when something has been left behind after surgery – those cases of medical negligence in which surgeons give their all (swabs and surgical instruments included). [...]


Every surgical procedure carries risks and most of these are pretty obvious, even to the non-medically trained among us. But that's fine and the risks stay low because the people doing those surgical procedures are highly-trained experts with sharp minds, steady hands and countless hours of practice under their collective belts.


So far, so safe – but there is one trait shared by all those surgeons that can't be ignored. They're all human, and as the 18th century poet Alexander Pope noted, "To err is human". And when surgeons err, they can leave you with a surgical legacy that is all sewn up – literally.


We're going to have a look at those times when something has been left behind after surgery – those cases of medical negligence in which surgeons give their all (swabs and surgical instruments included).



How often does it happen?
The answer is quite often, if research from The Sun is anything to go by. They found in 2008 722 objects were left inside patients in NHS procedures in English hospitals. That's a heck of a lot of surgical material.

And north of the border things don't get any better. If George Osborne really wants to cut down UK spending, maybe he could do something to make sure surgeons stop leaving instruments in patients. That'd cut down your equipment budget right there.


What gets left behind?

Maybe a more prescient question is what doesn't get left behind? Medical swabs and sponges are the most commonly forgotten about objects but pliers, scalpels and tubing are all known to have been left behind at the end of an operation.

In some cases the object that has been left behind is so prominent that it almost beggars belief that it has been forgotten about. Such is the case of Donna Bowett who went home after surgery with an unwelcome souvenir. Ms Bowett went into hospital to have her gall bladder removed but ended up gaining a pair of 7 inch forceps which surgeons forgot to take out of her.


What it can mean…

There are two areas to consider here and both are costly in different ways. For the people who have had objects left inside their bodies' post-surgery, there can be an extremely uncomfortable, and sometimes very painful, process. In the worst cases this can have tragic results, but even amongst less extreme incidents the problems faced by patients can be considerable. And when the problem is diagnosed they face another trip to the operating table – and with considerably less confidence in the surgeons performing the task.

Secondly, there is the very real cost to the health service that is incurred as a result of these botch job surgeries. After recognising that humans err, our poetic friend Pope noted that to forgive is divine. It may well be, but for many this forgiveness is an expensive business with patients seeking to get fairly compensated for the trouble that they've been put through.


Put it in context

While the prospect of having a lump of surgical metal sewn up inside you after a procedure may be enough to have you turning to healing crystals to get your medicinal fix, it's important to look at the bigger picture.

In England alone around 4.6 million hospital admissions lead to surgical procedures each year. The chances of being left with an unwanted gift at the end of a procedure are so infinitesimally small that you should never let them keep you from getting the care you need.


Having said that, if you've just had surgery and you find the airport metal detector beeping after you've taken off all your metal, maybe it's time to ask your doctor for an x-ray!


What's your experience of surgery been like?



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About Today's Contributor:

Catherine Halsey is a keen blogger that writes about a broad range of topics including health and well being.


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