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Outsourcing hits UK health services

world Updated: Mar 03, 2008 02:30 IST
Vijay Dutt

A surgeon, about to pick up a scalpel to perform a difficult operation, finds blood and bits of bone still sticking to it. Another has to change his surgical procedure when a key instrument breaks as he starts using it on an anaethesised patient, and no substitute is available.

These are just two of numerous examples cited by The Observer on Sunday in its investigation into how outsourcing the job of cleaning surgical instruments has affected Britain's hospitals. It reports that over 5000 operations in the last nine months have had to be postponed, or took longer than they should, because the instruments provided —which ought to have been thoroughly sterilised — were palpably dirty. Anaesthesized patients, all ready for operations, have had to be sent back to their wards.

"The problem has become acute since it was decided to outsource the providing of sterilised equipment such as scalpels, forceps and microscopes required for operations around nine months back. Till then all hospitals cleaned and took care of their surgical equipment on their own premises. But the growing commercialisation of the National Health Service has gradually led a good many hospitals to opt for outsourcing. It is cheaper than maintaining the staff required to do the cleaning.

"I think hospitals which carry out operations need to be very careful about whom they are outsourcing to," said senior medical consultant Dr Shiv Pande. "These centres should also be subject to regulations. Ad hoc checks on them must be carried out by the governments." The problem is many of these outsourcing centres lie outside Britain, over which British authorities can have no jurisdiction.