The Prince of Wales Hospital yesterday announced four incidents in the past two months in which doctors - in three cases, the same intern - failed to remove pieces of gauze after stitching new mothers' wounds from giving birth.
Two cases involving the unnamed intern were discovered after the women consulted their doctors about abnormal vaginal discharges after returning home in June from the Sha Tin public hospital.
The third case was discovered after the hospital contacted 26 other women on whom the intern had performed the same procedure.
The hospital separately discovered a fourth incident involving a woman who had given birth last month and had been stitched by a resident physician who had been on the job for a few years. The doctor was also not named.
Women giving birth often require stitches due to tearing of the birth canal and incisions made by doctors to prevent it. Nonetheless, the Hospital Authority said it had not received any report of gauzes being left behind in such procedures for two years.
Gauze left in the body can cause fever and infection. If it is not removed within a week, the patient runs the risk of a potentially fatal case of blood poisoning. The women in the Prince of Wales cases were found to be healing normally. They were treated with antibiotics and did not require additional hospital stays.
Hospital officials said they were 'very concerned' about the cases and had strengthened procedures to require doctors to count all pieces of gauze used with a nurse after completing a procedure. Previous guidelines only required doctors to count the pieces of gauze themselves.
Figures for the number of births at the hospital were not available, but New Territories East hospitals, including Prince of Wales, delivered 7,400 babies last year.
Dr Cheung Tak-hong, the hospital's chief of obstetrics and gynaecology, said being too busy was not an acceptable excuse. 'The doctor should have followed guidelines and developed good habits,' he said.
Administrators reported the incidents to the Hospital Authority, which has set up a committee to investigate what went wrong. The committee, consisting of doctors from the hospital, the authority and Princess Margaret Hospital, is expected to report back in eight weeks.
Hospital officials said they would wait for the results of the probe before deciding what, if any, action to take against the doctors involved.
The intern finished his one-year term in June and was placed with another public hospital last month, a Prince of Wales spokeswoman said.
Dr Kun Ka-yan, an obstetrician, said the intern appeared to have failed on two counts: not counting the pieces of gauze used and checking that none had been left in the vagina. 'These are standard procedures after every surgery,' Kun said.
The hospital urged any women who had given birth there in the past three months to report any abnormal conditions to their doctors.
The number of babies delivered last year by New Territories East hospitals including Prince of Wales