Surgical swabs and scalpel blades left inside patients as NHS ‘Never Events’ increase

Surgical swabs and scalpel blades left inside patients as NHS ‘Never Events’ increase

A never event is a serious incident or error that should not occur if proper safety procedures are followed. More than a decade has passed since the first list of eight Never Events was published in 2009 and in that time, there has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of related events to the point that 407 events were reported between April 2021 and March 2022 (against a figure of 364 events between April 2020 and March 2021).

Among the 407 events reported in 2021/22, there were 98 cases of a foreign object being left inside a patient during surgery, ranging from surgical swabs to drill bits and scalpel blades.

There were also 171 cases where the surgeon had operated on the wrong body part - one woman had her ovaries removed by mistake and six patients received injections to the wrong eye.

Other examples included performing wrong hip and knee implants, providing patients with air rather than oxygen during the recovery process, and giving patients the wrong blood type during a blood transfusion.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson has responded by saying "Patient safety is a top priority for the Government and these unfortunate events - although very rare - can have a serious physical and psychological impact on patients”.

Although Never Events have the potential to cause serious patient harm or death, they do not always need to have happened for an incident to be categorised as a Never Event. Hence, their purpose is to act as a red flag for areas of improvement in clinical practice.

As a member of the Medical Negligence Department here at Wolferstans, I was concerned to read that Never Events in the NHS are continuing to increase despite the fact that numerous measures have been put in place over the last few years to prevent a recurrence. The effect that these incidents can have on individuals, as well as their families, can be devastating; both from a health and financial perspective.

Situations where I have helped clients gain compensation after a Never Event include:

  • £11,000 for a client who was discharged following surgery with a non-absorbable pack left inside the wound cavity.
  • £7,500 for a client who, following the insertion of a chest drain, was found to have a guide wire left inside the pleural cavity.
  • £6,000 for a client who was injected with a bolus of air into the bloodstream (which entered the right ventricle of the heart) whilst undergoing a CT scan of the thorax and abdomen with contrast.

If you have suffered an injury because of a Never Event, then please call our Medical Negligence team on 01752 292204 or e-mail for a free consultation regarding the possibility of pursuing a claim for compensation.

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