NHS patients are having operations cancelled at the last minute because private decontamination firms have broken sensitive instruments or sent them back late, says the Royal College of Surgeons.
The college surveyed 250 surgeons and found two-thirds were unhappy with the availability and condition of instruments removed from hospital operating theatres for sterilisation off-site by private companies. While most of the work was fine, costly equipment was being broken and too much was coming back late or going missing, the RCS said.
"Without the equipment to do the job, surgeons are forced to abandon operations – sometimes when patients are already anaesthetised," the college said.
The Government has encouraged NHS trusts to contract out sterilisation work to the private sector. The least happy with services were neurosurgeons, of whom 82 per cent were dissatisfied with the availability of equipment, 85 per cent with the standard of its maintenance and 28 per cent with its sterility.
Professor Richard Ramsden, a surgeon who compiled evidence for the report, said: "This study indicates that surgeons working with on-site instrument cleaning facilities are getting a better service, enough to warrant an urgent reassessment of what's best for the NHS."Reuse content