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Last Updated: Friday, 30 July, 2004, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
'Brown sludge' found on equipment
By David Green
BBC News Online, Manchester

Valerie and Jodie May
Valerie May said "heads should roll" at the hospital
A hospital has apologised to the family of a teenage girl whose operation to straighten her spine was cancelled four times because of dirty equipment.

Jodie May was sent home from Royal Manchester Children's Hospital after brown sludge was found on equipment.

The 16-year-old's family, from Freckleton, Lancashire, have called for "heads to roll" over the incident.

The hospital says it takes sterilisation of surgical instruments "extremely seriously".

It added it was looking at "a number of solutions to prevent further delays".

Jodie, who was diagnosed with scoliosis - or curvature of the spine - in 2003, needs surgery to insert two steel rods and remove five vertebrae from her back to correct the problem.

Karen Coupe
If you were to go to a restaurant and find a knife that is dirty there is no way you would eat with that knife
Karen Coupe, Patient and Public Involvement forum

She was due to have the operation on 1 July, but was sent home after the surgeon said the outer packing on the surgical kit had been broken, rendering it non-sterile.

Jodie said: "On the day of the operation, I was really, really nervous. My mum had got me to talk to a counsellor because I'd been so worked up about it and then, when they came to me in the morning, the doctor said the kit isn't sterile.

"They must have brought other kit in and they said that wasn't sterile either."

The family were then told surgery would go ahead on 21 July but it was cancelled three times that day because the equipment was not sterile.

Jodie's mother, Valerie, said: "Just after noon the surgeon came again and said it's got brown sludge on it. He said 'I've asked them and they've promised me faithfully they'll be back at 2pm with some new kit.

'Life at stake'

"So, 2pm came and went and then the next minute I saw him walking down the corridor with the hospital assistant manager and apparently he'd taken her to see the kit.

"Of the two lots of kit, both had this brown sludge on, so they weren't sterile, and they couldn't use them. So we ended up going home again."

She added: "What's an apology when it's your child's life at stake?

"It's no good somebody saying 'oh I'm sorry, I'm sorry it wasn't sterile but come in again and we'll try again'.

"Heads should roll with this."

Karen Coupe, a voluntary member of the Patient and Public Involvement forum, which monitors healthcare provided by the trust, said she was appalled by the case and called for an investigation.

She said: "If you were to go to a restaurant and find a knife that is dirty there is no way you would eat with that knife.

"The thought of the possibility that a surgical instrument in a theatre is not either brand new or spotlessly clean is just so worrying for anyone that's going to have to go for an operation now."

'Distress caused'

A spokesperson for the trust said: "We would like to apologise to Jodie and her family for the distress caused in delaying her surgery.

"The sterilisation of our instruments is an issue we take extremely seriously. In this case there has been no single problem and we are undertaking a number of solutions to prevent further delays.

"The hospital has already apologised directly to the family, and we are keeping them fully informed of how we are working towards ensuring that Jodie's surgery can go ahead as soon as possible."

The BBC's David Green
"The surgical kit was contaminated with a mysterious brown sludge..."


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