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Retained Swabs
Retained Swabs

Retained Swabs

Swabs being left inside the body after surgery are something we unfortunately see all too often. It is an incident that should never happen, and can lead to serious post-operative complications.

What Is A Retained Swab?

Retained surgical swabs are swabs that have been used during surgery which are mistakenly left inside the body. This occurs when the incision made to a patient is closed without a swab being accounted for, meaning the item is accidentally retained.

While retained swabs are most common during gynaecological and abdominal procedures, it is possible for foreign objects to be left in a patient's body during the course of any type of surgery. If a swab has not been removed, a patient may start to notice post-operative symptoms such as:-

  • Sepsis (infection of the blood);
  • Discomfort around the site of the retained swab;
  • An unusual protrusion of the skin;
  • Nausea;
  • Constipation.

However, occasionally a retained swab can go undiagnosed for some time. In these cases, a patient may start to experience more serious complications such as:

  • Abscess formation;
  • Fistulas;
  • Perforation of the bowel;
  • Extreme pain around the site of the foreign body.

How To Prevent Retained Swabs?

There are factors which are known to increase the risk of swabs being retained. These include emergency surgery, obesity and a sudden change during surgical procedure (such as a change of surgeon).

Even so, the occurrence of a retained swab should not happen, and is classified by the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) as a “never event”. To prevent swabs being left behind, there are strict guidelines that medical professionals must follow.

These guidelines begin before the procedure, whereby the swabs designated for the operation must be counted by two members of staff. The same swabs should then be counted again before the wound is closed to ensure all swabs have been removed. If they are not all present, extensive checks and counts should be carried out by medical staff to guarantee no foreign object is retained in the body. Once this has been made certain, the surgeon can close the skin and finish the procedure.

Treatment Of A Retained Swab

If you have received medical treatment and are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, then you should seek medical assistance without delay. If you are diagnosed with a retained swab – which can usually be diagnosed with a CT scan – it is more than likely additional surgery will be needed to remove it. Additionally, a course of antibiotics should be prescribed as a patient with a retained swab will have a significantly weakened immune system. This in turn can mean that a patient is more at risk of picking up infection, particularly hospital acquired infections.

What Action Can You Take?

Swabs should never be retained during surgery. Such an incident is considered a "never event", and is usually a direct result of medical negligence. If you have experienced a retained swab, you should seek expert legal advice to discuss your options further. It is possible that you have suffered as a direct result of human error, and you might be able to claim compensation.

Can We Help You With A Medical Negligence Enquiry?

Early legal assistance can be vital so please contact us if you would like to discuss your situation. Please call us free on 0800 234 3300 (or from a mobile 01275 334030) or complete our Online Enquiry Form.

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Early legal assistance can be vital so please contact us if you would like to discuss your situation. Please call us free on 0800 234 3300 (or from a mobile 01275 334030) or complete our Online Enquiry Form.

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