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Friday, 17 December, 1999, 11:02 GMT
'Hasty' eye ops caused errors

eyes Wrong fluid injected into eyes

Elderly eye patients were injected with the wrong fluid because of a "misunderstanding" between staff, an inquiry has concluded.

A report concluded that eye droplets were mistakenly injected during "hastily" arranged cataract operations at BUPA's Gatwick Park Hospital due to a "misunderstanding" between company nurses and the NHS surgeon.

Twenty NHS patients were re-routed to the private hospital in a drive to cut waiting lists.

The patients were left with blurred vision, but inadequate post-operative care meant it was only after the third batch of surgery that the cause of the problem was discovered, the report said.

Details emerged in March of how, during three sets of cataract operations at the hospital, pensioners were wrongly injected with methyl cellulose - a drug designed only for external use.

The operations, which took place in February, had been contracted out by Brighton Health Care NHS Trust as part of a drive to cut waiting lists.

There was a time when I thought I'd lost the sight in my right eye and would never see properly again
Albert Holder
Of the 21 patients concerned, 20 were recalled when it was discovered the type of methyl cellulose used should have been applied as eye droplets.

On examination, a third of those affected were found to be suffering from inflammation and some corneal damage, while a further third had significant swelling and clouded vision.

Independent inquiry

An independent inquiry was immediately launched by East Sussex, Brighton and Hove Health Authority and an internal investigation mounted by BUPA.

Presenting the finished report on Friday, panel chairman John Wells-Thorpe said there was no danger that any of the affected patients would go blind.

While 10 have now been discharged to the care of their own opticians, seven were showing signs of improvement, despite still having clouded vision, and two had had to undergo penetrating corneal grafts. One has since died of an unrelated condition.

Mr Wells-Thorpe, a former chairman of South Downs Health NHS Trust, criticised the lack of planning leading up to the operations in the light of the fact that the surgeon and nurses were not used to working together.

eye Injected fluid should have been used as drops
He called for a shake-up in post-operative care to ensure patients received visual check-ups within 48 hours of undergoing surgery, in accordance with Royal College of Ophthalmologists guidelines.

While describing the labelling of the incorrectly used fluid as "totally inadequate", Mr Wells-Thorpe criticised the failure of both surgeon and nurses to notice it was marked for "external use only".

He said: "There was an absence of any kind of malice involved here. This entire event was the result of a misunderstanding."

At the time the probe was announced, several of the patients affected spoke to the media of their fear and anger.

One 80-year-old woman from Saltdean, who did not want to be named, told the Evening Argus newspaper her eyesight had been reduced to mere light and dark shadows.

Another, Albert Holder, 91, of Mayfield Avenue, Peacehaven, whose vision later started to improve, said: "At first I could see things going red and yellow and red again, but nothing else.

"There was a time when I thought I'd lost the sight in my right eye and would never see properly again."

The fluid used in the operations contains a preservative which can harm the eye if used incorrectly, by damaging cells at the rear of the cornea.

BUPA medical director Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen said the nurses involved had been given updated training, in accordance with the report's recommendations, and internally disciplined.

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See also:
19 Mar 99 |  Health
Patients win apology for eye operation blunder
05 Feb 99 |  Health
Screening misses babies' cataracts
24 Mar 99 |  Health
Taking the trauma out of blindness

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