Are Poor Quality Surgical Instruments Posing a Threat to Patients?

Opting for surgery as a medical solution is often a huge, life-altering decision – not just for the patient but for his caretakers and for the doctors as well! Be it a minor correction or a major intervention, chances of success can be greatly weighed down by a number of factors. An important factor affecting the rate of success is cleanliness and hygiene. While this may not seem like a big deal, maintenance of cleanliness can actually be the deciding factor even in cases of minor injuries. In case of surgeries, the quality and cleanliness of surgical instruments are two factors can actually aid in advancement of the disease instead of curing it. The significance of these factors is often undermined.

Surgical instruments are the tools that make contact with bodily fluids and tissues. These tools must therefore be properly sterilized both before and after the surgery. Improperly sterilized tools can become carriers of many micro-organisms and aid in transmission of nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections. While standard protocols for sterilization and cleanliness are in place in most hospitals worldwide, their importance must be re-emphasized from time to time. The quality of surgical instruments and other equipment is yet another factor that is often overlooked but critical to success of the surgery. A surgical instrument must be made to the exact specifications and should undergo a critical examination procedure. Faults even at the micro-level can prove life-threatening: crevices or cracks can become breeding grounds for several microbes, faulty edges can puncture the gloves while working or the worst scenario of all being the deposition of pieces of poor quality instruments within the patient’s body!

“In 2009 at Nottingham City Hospital several patients who underwent surgery contracted life-threatening antibiotic resistant infections because of faulty surgical instruments: these tools caused micro punctures in the surgeons’ gloves which in turn became home to drug resistant pathogens. In 2009, Dorothy Brown underwent heart surgery at Nottingham City Hospital. While the operation was a success, she contracted an antibiotic-resistant infection that nearly claimed her life. Ten other patients operated on by Brown’s surgeon around the same time contracted the same lethal infection.” –

Several such cases have been reported in India as well.

“Doctors at the Government Medical College recovered a part of a surgical instrument from a woman’s body, which had broken off and fallen into the abdominal cavity while she underwent a hysterectomy at the Nedumangad taluk hospital on Thursday morning.” – The Hindu

The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports at least a 1,000 incidences every year as a result of poor quality surgical instruments. Investigation into the Nottingham city hospital case study revealed that at least 20% surgical instruments are faulty and the entire network of manufacturers-inspectors-administrators is to be blamed. Many instruments are recycled by re-welding, coated with corroded and pitted metals, may have faulty edges or screw heads and have pieces breaking off.

So what can you do at the consumer level? Buy products only from the trusted manufacturers, repeatedly ask them about their inspection procedures, use disposable products, ensure cleanliness protocols are followed at your clinic/hospital and buy good quality products to protect your patients from these unwanted complications.