Written by

Fiona Swarbrick - Associate, Head of Medical Negligence

When patients undergo surgery, there are certain things that can go wrong and every surgery carries an element of risk. Types of things that can go wrong during surgery can include foreign objects being left inside the patient after surgery or wrong site surgery, these are known as Never Events.

 In this article, we will be discussing the medical equipment that is most commonly left behind after surgery and how this can affect patients. 


NHS Never Events 

According to the NHS “Never Events are defined as Serious Incidents that are wholly preventable because guidance or safety recommendations that provide strong systemic protective barriers are available at a national level and should have been implemented by all healthcare providers.” 

Never Events have the potential to cause serious harm and potentially even death to patients and there are different types of surgical Never Events that can occur: 

  • Wrong site surgery – when a procedure is performed on the wrong patient or at the wrong site, for example on the wrong knee. 
  • Wrong implant/ prosthesis – when the placement of the implant/ prosthesis is different from the specified procedural plan
  • Retained foreign object post procedure – retention of a foreign object in a patient after a surgical procedure 

Never Events can have serious health and financial implications for patients. The NHS publishes data every year about Never Events that have occurred as they are clear that they need to openly tackle these issues. 


Foreign objects left after surgery 

Every year, the NHS publishes the amount of Never Events that have occurred, and this includes the amount of retained foreign object post procedure, this relates to any foreign objects that are left in patients after an operation. 

The most common objects that were left after surgeries between these dates were: 

  • Vaginal swabs – there were 90 vaginal swabs left overall 
  • Surgical swabs – there were 53 surgical swabs left overall 
  • Guide wires – central line – there were 26 central lines left overall

From the 1st April 2015 to 31st March 2020, the NHS Resolution received 800 claims for incidents of retained foreign object post procedure. Out of the 800 claims, 454 were settled with damages paid, 193 were without merit and as of March 2021, 153 of the claims remained open. This cost the NHS a total of £14,546,778. 

Out of the 454 claims that were settled with damages paid 389 were Never Events and the retained foreign objects were: 

  • Instruments – 46% 
  • Swabs – 44% 
  • Guidewires – 7%
  • Needles – 3%



If a patient has suffered from a foreign object being left behind following a surgical procedure, it is possible that the patient will suffer serious harm or even death. Complications from a failure to remove foreign objects include: 

  • Greater risk of infection 
  • Additional pressure on the patient’s body 
  • Further surgeries to rectify the mistake 
  • Psychological damage caused by the distress


Failure to remove objects during surgery – medical negligence claims 

If you are undergoing surgery, your surgeon has a duty of care to perform your surgery to the highest possible standards and when there is a failure to remove foreign objects during surgical procedures, the surgery could have been negligent and you may be able to claim for compensation. This type of negligence can have serious consequences for patients and can affect both their physical and mental well being. 

If you believe that you have undergone a negligent surgery and a foreign object has been left after a procedure, contact Patient Claim Line today and we will be able to assess your case to see whether or not you can claim for compensation.

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