Surgeons use a lot of implements and instruments when performing surgery - which, all too frequently, stay in the patient afterwards.
Researchers at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston reckon that surgical implements are left in the patient in one out of 1000 operations, especially abdominal ones. The result can be serious, and, in one case of the 54 the hospital reviewed, the patient died. Most result in sepsis or infection and, in nearly 70% of the cases, the patient had to undergo another operation so that the implement could be removed.
Sponges were, by far, the most common implement left in the patient, but clamps and scissors were also discovered.
So what can hospitals do to reduce the problem? Counting the implements before and after surgery doesn't seem to help, because this was done in 88% of cases where implements were found in the patient, suggesting that staff couldn't count properly. Instead, those patients at higher risk - including those who are overweight and who have had abdominal surgery - should be routinely screened for foreign bodies.
(Source: New England Journal of Medicine, 2003; 348: 229-35).