Retained Surgical Equipment

Compensation for Retained Equipment

The retention of equipment following surgery is thankfully rare, but it is potentially lethal. It occurs during abdominal or pelvic surgery. There are a range of issues resulting from the retention of surgical equipment. The error can go undetected for your or may cause extremely minor issues.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellent (NICE) consider retained surgical objects to be a 'never event'. This means that as long as the necessary preventative measures are put in place, a surgical item should never be left inside a patient’s body. If an incident does occur, serious questions need to be asked as to why it was allowed to happen, who is to blame and whether or not there is a case of medical negligence.

Preventing Retained Surgical Items

During the course of an operation, the surgeon and their medical team will use a variety of surgical instruments and tools. Amongst others, these can include swabs, needles, pins, scalpels, scissors, sponges, tweezers and clamps. There is, therefore, a lot of equipment in use and it can be difficult to keep track of all the items that have been employed.

That is why there are strict guidelines in place to ensure surgical objects are not lost during the procedure. While the exact protocol may differ from hospital to hospital, the surgical team will generally be required to count all instruments beforehand, noting down the numbers. Once the operation is finished, everything should be recounted to ensure nothing has been left behind. If an item cannot be accounted for, the surgeon must not suture the patient together until the issue has been resolved.

Claiming Compensation for Retained Equipment

If an item is left inside a patient’s body, certain symptoms will arise post-operatively. The nature of these problems will vary according to the type and location of retained surgical item. But more often than not a patient will develop an infection, along with fever, vomiting and pain.  A retained surgical item can therefore put a patient in extreme danger, while a second operation will also be necessary to remove the foreign object.

Signs of Retention of Equipment During Surgery

  1. Fistula: this is an abnormal link between organs, either between organs such as a Gastrojejunocolic fistula – which results in faecal matter passing from the colon to the stomach causing halitosis, within organs, such as an Enteroenteral fistula - a fistula between two sections of the intestine or between organs and the abdominal wall or the skin.
  2. Perforation: bowel perforation is a hole or nick in the bowel which causes the contents of the intestine to leak into the abdominal cavity.
  3. Obstruction of the bowel: this can often be treated within 2-5 days non-invasively but surgical intervention may be required. In the case of a retained instrument surgical intervention is always required.
  4. Sepsis: a severe inflammatory response to bacteria or other germs. In this case a foreign object, sepsis is extremely dangerous, cause the body to go into shock and can cause multiple organ failure and death.
  5. Death: in the most severe cases if retained equipment is not noticed it can lead to fatality due to internal damage.

High risk factors have been pointed out as obesity, change of surgical procedure and emergency surgery. The likelihood of an error occurring in these cases is higher than in other surgical procedures.

Retained Equipment Medical Negligence Claims

Once a patient has recovered from his or her injuries, their next step should be to seek legal advice. Alternatively, a loved one may choose to do this on their behalf. This is because, as mentioned previously, retained surgical items should not happen if medical professionals follow hospital guidelines. If they fail to do so and a patient suffers a retained surgical item, there may well have been a case of medical negligence. If so, the injured victim will be entitled to compensation for the pain, suffering and loss of amenity this has caused. A sum will also be awarded for the acute financial loss incurred as a direct result of the substandard level of medical care.

Medical negligence claims can be successfully made for a variety of reasons, including failing to count the amount of swabs used, failure to check x-rays and failure to check the operative field as detailed below.

1. Claims relating to the swab or instrument count:

  • No count occurred
  • Miscount deeming the amount correct when in fact items were missing.
  • The count came back incorrect but this issue was ignored by the surgical team


2. The surgeon failed to check operative field


3. Claims relating to x-rays

  • No x-rays were undertaken
  • X-rays were done but the radiographs were misread

In any scenario when the count is wrong following closure, post-operative radiography is imperative. However 10% of the time swabs will not be detectable via this technique. A Harvard Study into the issue of the retention of equipment following surgery revealed that almost 70% of retained objects are sponges.

What are the Costs?

1stClaims does not charge you for using our service and all initial enquiries with our Solicitors are also free of charge, so rest assured, this initial step of making an enquiry will not cost you anything.

Once one of our Solicitors has assessed the merits of your enquiry they will make a judgement on the likely chances of bringing a successful claim and if the prospects are good, they will normally offer to take your case on a No Win No Fee basis. NOTE: If your case is successful your Solicitor will deduct up to a maximum of 25% of your final settlement or compensation award as payment for their fees. You can find out more about No Win No Fee arrangements and the potential costs that can be incurred by clicking here.

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Start your claim today

If you are the victim of retained equipment during surgery, you will be entitled to compensation for the damages you have incurred. To begin your medical negligence claim, you need to speak to a solicitor who specialises in this area of the law.

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To be connected to one of our specialist solicitors, please call us free on 0800 2888 693 (from a mobile click to call: 01348 630 720) or complete our Medical Negligence.

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