Retained surgical instrument claims

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Paul Carvis

Panel Personal Injury Solicitor

A guide to making a No Win No Fee retained surgical instruments claim

On average, each week two people in England have a foreign object left inside their body following a surgical or invasive procedure. Incidents like this are defined by the NHS as Never Events .

These are usually serious clinically negligent incidents, which are wholly preventable when guidance and safety recommendations, available to all NHS healthcare providers, are implemented.

What is a surgical/invasive procedure?

As well as operations in theatre, surgical/invasive procedures include interventional radiology, cardiology, interventions related to natural birth and interventions performed outside of the surgical environment e.g. central line placement in ward areas.

What is classified as a foreign object?

At the start of any surgical/invasive procedure certain items are subject to a formal counting. The NHS has a definitive list, which includes swabs, instruments, needles and guidewires. Before the operation is completed, the items are recounted and checked to ensure no foreign objects remain inside the patient.

If this is carried out correctly, a patient should never suffer from a foreign object left inside their body. But in the 12 months to 31 March 2015, 102 of the 308 Never Events recorded by NHS England were classified as retained foreign object post-procedure . 46% of these were retained swabs.

What can happen if a foreign object is retained in the body?

It could cause a number of problems for a patient. Pain and infection are complications of retained foreign objects post-procedure. More serious problems can occur, including sepsis and organ failure.

When a second procedure is necessary to remove the foreign object, this prolongs recovery time.

It does not matter what size the retained foreign object is, or its potential to cause harm, it will still be classified as a Never Event.

Are all foreign objects included?

Not all items used during an operation are subject to formal counting. Those inserted any time before the procedure (where they will be removed during the procedure), are not counted. Others intentionally left in place, with removal planned for a later date, are noted on the patient's records.

Sometimes items are known to be missing prior to the completion of the procedure and may be within the patient (e.g. screw or drill fragments). Further action to locate and retrieve them may be impossible or more damaging to the patient, so they are left in place, the patient informed and the items recorded.

Is this grounds for a clinical negligence claim?

Although foreign objects have the potential to cause serious patient harm or death, this need not have occurred for the incident to be classed as a Never Event. As their name suggests, Never Events should not happen. When they do it could be medical negligence and there may be grounds for a compensation claim.

What should you do if you have suffered from a retained foreign object?

Although retained foreign objects are established never events', it is important to remember that every situation is different. It is wise to seek legal advice from a specialist lawyer who will listen to the details of the case and consider the options in pursuing a claim for medical negligence.

Further information

The revised Never Events Policy and Framework published on 27 March 2015, includes changes to the definition of a Never Event and adjustments to the types of incident included on the Never Events list of 14 incident types. It is applicable for all incidents occurring on or after 1 April 2015. Further details may be found here.

How can Quittance help?

If you would like more information about making a medical or clinical negligence claim, Quittance's panel of solicitors can help. Contact is on 0800 612 7456 or complete an online form and we will call you back.