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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 06:35 GMT
Dirty instruments 'stopping surgery'
Surgeons performing operation
The instrument cleaning process is being blamed
Operations in Scottish hospitals are being abandoned at the last minute because blood and contamination have been found on surgical instruments.

A report in Friday's British Medical Association (BMA) magazine called new instrument sterilisation processes "shambolic".

It said the system, introduced by the Scottish Executive, was putting lives at risk. The Scottish National Party has called for an inquiry.

Doctors claim that on some occasions patients were brought round from anaesthetic without surgery taking place because all available equipment was visibly dirty.

DIRTY INSTRUMENTS
Surgeon holding medical instrument
Patients needs come first and waiting times will increase if this issue is not dealt with effectively

Dr Janet Jenkins

The executive admitted there had been "teething problems" - but said it had not received any reports of cancelled operations.

Dr Janet Jenkins, deputy chairwoman of the BMA Scottish committee for hospital medical services, said the problem related to the implementation of the new sterilisation system.

She said health trusts were trying to comply with the recommendations of the Glennie Framework, the first report from the Scottish Executive's sterile services provision review group.

The report, published in 2001, said groups of hospitals should be working towards establishing centralised, automated decontamination services by 2004.

Dr Jenkins said: "NHS Lothian bought machines but they leave debris on the instruments."

She added that some instruments, particularly those with spring mechanisms, could not be cleaned by machines.

Dr Jenkins wants immediate action by the Scottish Executive - which has instructed trusts to make the changes.

System testing

She said it should ensure systems were tested before being introduced and that more thought should be given to the type of machines and instruments needed to make the cleaning process more thorough.

Her view was backed by Tayside consultant orthopaedic, surgeon Richard Buckley.

He said: "We're regularly cancelling hip replacement operations.

"The turnaround time to clean instruments is supposed to be 24 hours but it's longer than that."
There have been no reports of hospitals having to cancel operations

Scottish Executive spokeswoman

Dr Jenkins said: "By raising this issue with the executive, the BMA is highlighting that there is a problem throughout Scotland.

"We hope that the executive can strive to improve the situation by re-examining the current system in place.

"Patients needs come first and waiting times will increase if this issue is not dealt with effectively."

An executive spokeswoman said it was aware that some trusts experienced teething problems with the installation of new equipment.

But she said: "There have been no reports of hospitals having to cancel operations or indeed patients being 'woken' on the way to theatre as a result.

"If there is any evidence of operations being cancelled because of the decontamination process the executive would like to see it."

The SNP's health spokeswoman Nicola Sturgeon said: "This is a complete waste of time and money and must be a dreadful experience for the patients concerned.

"There must be an urgent inquiry into what has gone wrong with new procedures for centralising decontamination services and action taken urgently to redress the situation."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Dr Janet Jenkins
"Patients have not been directly harmed because we have detected the problem"
Health correspondent Eleanor Bradford
"The BMA said there were lessons to be learned."
See also:

30 Jan 03 | Scotland
03 May 02 | Scotland
21 Jan 02 | Scotland
04 May 01 | Health
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