Number of surgical objects left in bodies of Hong Kong patients hits four-year high

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 2014, 11:04am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 2:33am

Seven patients who underwent medical procedures in Hong Kong in the first quarter of the year had surgical objects left inside their bodies - the most since 2010, according to new figures.

The items included a 12cm drainage tube left in a patient's abdomen, a 4.5cm catheter tip left in a kidney and the 1cm end of a drill bit that snapped during hip surgery.

In another case, the spiral metallic tip of a fetal scalp electrode was left embedded in the head of a newborn baby. It was not discovered until a month after birth when the parents noticed swelling on their baby's scalp and sought medical advice. It was later removed.

The 12cm drainage tube left inside a patient with colon cancer was discovered three months after the operation, when the patient complained of abdominal pain during a follow-up appointment. Further surgery was required to remove it.

The incidents were revealed by the Hospital Authority in the latest issue of Risk Alert, its magazine for health care professionals. Data collected since 2010 shows the average number of such incidents per quarter is 3.6.

Tim Pang Hung-cheong, spokesman for the Patients' Rights Association, said the number of incidents needed to be monitored closely.

"It is only a single [digit] figure so I don't think it is very alarming," Pang said.

"But we have to observe it over a period of time to see whether the trend is increasing or see if it rises very rapidly between each period of reporting."

Surgeon Kenneth Fu Kam-fung, a former president of the Hong Kong Public Doctors' Association, said surgical debris might be left inside patients due to instrument breaks during an operation without staff realising it, or because of human error.

After surgery, nurses are typically assigned to count the number of instruments removed, but mistakes can be made.

"Nurses perform a lot of different operations with many instruments. That means a nurse may not be familiar with the number of instrument or parts of the instruments," Fu said, adding that many items left inside patients were discovered later when X-rays were taken as a safeguard.

Items were also discovered when patients experienced pain or inflammation after surgery, Fu said, as was the case in three of the seven latest cases.

A Hospital Authority spokesperson said: "The number of [incidents] in public hospitals is on a par with that of Western Australia. Given the complex health care settings, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for hospitals to attain zero medical incidents.

"A thorough root cause analysis is conducted on all 'sentinel events' ... to identify possible underlying organisational deficiencies which may not be immediately apparent and which may have contributed to the cause of the event.

"The entire Hospital Authority learns from the reported events and to change systems and processes for greater patient safety."


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