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Leak reveals surgeons’ fear of supply shortages

PUBLISHED: 12:03 15 July 2010 | UPDATED: 18:06 25 August 2010

Patients are on the operating table before surgeons discover they do not have essential equipment to go through with the procedure. These are the alarming claims of top clinicians working at south-east London s main hospitals.

Patients are on the operating table before surgeons discover they do not have essential equipment to go through with the procedure.

These are the alarming claims of top clinicians working at south-east London's main hospitals.

Confidential minutes from a staff meeting of top doctors at Queen Mary's, Sidcup, Queen Elizabeth's, Woolwich and Princess Royal, Farnborough, leaked to the Times, warn there could be another case like Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust where 400 patients died because it was driven by targets and cost cutting measures.

The minutes state: "Clinicians may not know they have run out of equipment until the last item has been used and the patient is on the operating table."

Doctors said they are being "deliberately misled" by managers into performing operations when there are no beds for patients after surgery.

The minutes have been distributed to around 160 doctors across the three South London Healthcare NHS Trust sites and reveal orders for medical supplies in the cardiac department were stopped and sterile packs and wires used in pacemakers ran out.

Trust chief executive Chris Streather and medical director Roger Smith both attended the meeting of surgeons and consultants on June 16 at the Princess Royal despite not being invited by the clinicians, it stated in the documents.

Mr Streather told the crowd of medics they were "making it sound like a disaster". But the surgeons stressed a lack of beds and the inability to find out which manager they should talk to, highlighted the issues about the "chaos" of the management structure. They said it meant that patients who have had major cancer surgery could not be found beds.

The documents claim the Trust ran out or nearly ran out of certain types of ventilation masks, sealed chest drains which take fluid from around the lungs, epidural packs used for caesarean sections, gynaecological disposables and radiological disposables.

Consultants told Mr Streather, who earned £197,000 last year: "In some situations the companies are not supplying equipment because of a non-payment of bills, in other situations it is because the sterile services department has not managed to turn around the equipment in time."

Mr Streather cited "a cash flow issue" and said "it was regrettable that clinical supplies were involved" but the surgeons said the situation has "shaken the confidence of the consultant body in the Trust management."

A Trust spokesperson told the Times: "Mr Smith took up the specific issues about procurement and found that there were some technical problems with the ordering of equipment which were identified and have now been resolved.

"We have put in place a mechanism where all consultants can report directly to the medical director any further issues and so far none have been reported.


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