Surgeons admit losing drill bits in patients

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WIGAN Infirmary surgeons have admitted that losing drill bits in patients during operations is “unavoidable”.

Evidence released following a Freedom of Information request to Wrightington Wigan Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) show that there have been 14 incidents over the past three years in which instruments have been accidentally sewn up inside patients after a trip to the operating theatre.

Most of the incidents accounted for drill bits which have snapped off during orthopaedic surgery, although there was one incident where a needle snapped inside a patient’s shoulder.

The information released said that “the risk is unavoidable as it is the nature of the surgery. In the past new drill bits have snapped so it is not necessarily weakened metal”.

The number of incidents at WWL was relatively small in comparison to other trusts. A recent report revealed that nationally, taxpayers have had to foot a £4.3m bill for a series of successful claims against the NHS for leaving ‘foreign bodies’ under their skin.

However, not everybody agrees that such incidents are unavoidable.

Peter Walsh of Action Against Medical Accidents said: “It is very disturbing that it still happens regularly.

“It is almost certain that there are a lot more incidents of this nature that are unknown because people never find out about it.

“Also there will be a great number of people who even when this happens decide not to take legal action.

“What is so tragic is that these are such basic errors – they are so easily avoidable through routine checks.

“The only thing to be thankful of is that in the context of the number of surgical procedures carried out every year this is thankfully very small.”

WWL’s data revealed that although not common, drill bits can snap off and in some cases it was reported that consultants advise that “more trauma would be caused by trying to get them out.”

However, an incident to repair a damaged arm meant that the drill bit could not be recovered and that the surgeon informed the patient once they were fully conscious on the ward.

In another operation to repair a broken knee joint, a drill bit was lost and said by consultants to be irretrievable.