Swiss docs 'worst' for leaving items in patients

Author thumbnail
Malcolm Curtis - [email protected]
Swiss docs 'worst' for leaving items in patients

Swiss hospitals may have a good reputation but doctors from Switzerland have the worst record in Europe for leaving medical instruments or “foreign bodies” inside patients after operations, according to an OECD report.


The report on procedural or postoperative complications from the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development said the number of objects left inside patients by Swiss surgeons is more than three times the average for 13 European countries.

A tweet from the Paris-based OECD on Monday highlighted the findings, which it said are among the millions of preventable adverse events related to hospitalization annually.

The number of foreign objects left in patients per 100,000 operations reached 11.8 in Switzerland, compared to the average in of 3.8 for the E13 countries, the report says, citing statistics from 2011 or the “nearest year”.

The Swiss incidence of such accidents was more than 20 times worse than in Belgium, which recorded the lowest rate of (0.5), followed by Denmark (1.6), Poland (1.9) and Ireland (2.5).

The next highest rate to Switzerland was found in Portugal (6.5), France (6.2) and Norway (6.0).

The report doesn’t single out why so many foreign bodies are inadvertently left inside patients in Swiss hospitals and clinics

But “the most common risk factors for this ‘never event’ are emergencies, unplanned changes in procedure, patient obesity and changes in the surgical team,” it says. 

“Preventive measures include counting instruments, methodical wound exploration and effective communication among the surgical team.”

The Swiss society of surgeons reacted with surprise to the OECD findings and wants to verify the statistics, according to 20 Minutes newspaper.

The society, however, said that it is not necessarily possible to compare the figures of different countries, as has been done.

The OECD concedes that caution is needed in interpreting the statistics.

“In some cases, higher adverse event rates may signal more developed patient safety monitoring systems rather than worse care,” it says.

“It’s clear that at first blush this figure is shocking,” admitted Margrit Kessler, head of the Swiss patients’ organization.

The information needed to be in context, Kessler is quoting as telling 20 Minutes.

“Is Switzerland at this point worse than other countries? Or do we simply have more documentation on the subject?”

Kessler said it is also not clear what the nature of the foreign objects left inside patients was.

“Is it concerning instruments forgotten and retrieved during the same operation or instruments retrieved during a second operation?”

The OECD report quoted an earlier European Commission studz which “estimated that without any policy changes there are likely to be ten million adverse events related to hospitalizations (including infection related ones) in the European Union per year.”

It said that around 4.4 million of these were preventable. 

Check here for more on the OECD statistics.



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also