MP seeks inquiry into drug drip-feeds linked to 11 deaths

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At least 11 deaths in British hospitals have been linked to the use of drip-feed drug devices, the Department of Health confirmed yesterday.

The Labour MP, George Foulkes, is seeking a top-level inquiry into the use of the machines and the part they may have played in the deaths.

The risks involved in using drip-feed devices to administer drugs were highlighted at an inquiry into the death of Catriona Henderson, a 34-year-old mother of two, after a routine gall-bladder operation at Ayr hospital.

Sheriff Robin McEwan, in findings issued on Friday, ruled that she died of brain damage after receiving an overdose of painkiller administered through a syringe pump. He found the syringe had been incorrectly re-sited into the pump, allowing the painkiller to flow into her, uncontrolled. She suffered brain damage within minutes.

The inquiry was told that a safety action bulletin for the pump had been seen by only five people at Ayr hospital, and was not seen by nursing staff. The sheriff said the hospital had not taken reasonable precautions to set up a proper system for circulating safety bulletins.

Mr Foulkes, MP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, is to write on behalf of Mrs Henderson's bereaved family to Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, and Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland, about the drips. "There is a need for a group of people at top level who understand the use of these devices to look at their implementation and make recommendations for standardisation, training and other aspects of their use," he said. Mr Foulkes said the problem appeared to be not with the devices themselves but in their variety and increasing use. "We need a systematic inquiry to see why these deaths have occurred, and make sure this kind of tragedy does not recur."

The Department of Health yesterday confirmed that 11 deaths had been associated with the use of the devices in the five years to October 1994. A spokesman said that while it was monitoring the use of the devices there were no plans to withdraw them. It appealed for people to put the numbers in context, pointing out that there were tens of thousands of them in use across the country.

The Scottish Office had recently issued a document on procedures to ensure staff were properly trained to use them, the spokesman added.