By Dr. Mercola
The BBC documentary, “Surgery’s Dirty Secrets,” which originally aired in 2011, investigates the sources of surgical tools, and highlights flaws in British safety regulations.
If you’re like most, you probably assume that surgical instruments are made to the very highest, exacting standards. The reality of where and how these tools are made is downright shocking.
According to BBC reporter Samantha Poling, who spent a year investigating this topic, there are significant problems in the industry — problems that can, and have, caused severe illness and death.
An estimated 30 million operations are carried out in British hospitals each year. In order to perform, surgeons need the right tools for the job, and these tools must be made to exact specifications and be of the highest quality.
Poorly made or non-functioning surgical tools can mean the difference between a successful surgery and the loss of a limb or organ, or even the death of the patient.
For example, for each fraction of a second a surgical assistant is struggling with a poorly functioning arterial clamp, the patient is losing blood, compromising the success of the surgery.
As discussed in my interview with Dr. David Lewis, Ph.D., a retired microbiologist with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year, non-disposable tools such as flexible sigmoidoscopes and colonoscopies are also risky for the patient. Since they must be reused, these tools require cleaning and sterilization before each use, both inside and out. However, testing reveals that this is virtually impossible, and the disinfection process used by most clinics and hospitals fails to properly clean and sterilize these tools.
As a result, patients take great chances when these tools are used on them, as they can spread all manner of infections from one patient to another. There is a solution: create flexible scopes that can be autoclaved (heat sterilized). But manufacturers have not been pressured to come up with such a design. As noted by Lewis, it really boils down to federal agencies failing to take the contamination issue seriously enough.
If you’re having a colonoscopy done, or any other procedure where a flexible endoscope will be used, be sure to ask how it is cleaned, and which cleaning agent is being used.
Asking what they use to clean the scope is a key question that could save your life. It’s important that we all start to do this because the FDA simply does not have the incentive to take action on it.
However, once enough people refuse to have these procedures done with glutaraldehyde-sterilized instruments, then clinics and hospitals will change, even if the FDA does nothing. It’s also crucial that health care professionals who are reading this start addressing the issue from the inside. You really need to be aware of this issue, and how it’s placing patients at risk.
As for flawed surgical tools, there’s very little you as a patient can do about it. Ideally, hospitals everywhere would hire someone to carefully inspect all surgical tools prior to use. In all, Poling’s report reveals there is much room for improvement in this industry, if we are to place patient welfare first.