AN investigation is under way after a medical swab was discovered inside a patient at the Great Western Hospital.

The incident, which is described as a ‘never event’, took place at GWH at the beginning of August while a patient suspected of having breast cancer underwent surgery.

Nobody was aware that the swab had been left inside the woman until about seven weeks later when she attended a follow-up appointment in Oxford.

The patient did not suffer any complications and the swab was removed in October.

Medical director Alf Troughton told the BBC that when he was asked to look into the matter, he could see an abnormality in the shape of a small string of wire which all swabs used in surgery have.

He said: “I was asked to look at the pictures and I said it looked like it was a small piece from a larger swab.”

This was the fifth ‘never event’ to take place at the GWH within the past two years. Never events are serious patient safety incidents that, by definition, should not happen. There are 25 different types of incidents including a broad range of clinical incidents.

“Across the South West on average, most hospitals are having two or three never events a year, and we are having similar numbers,” said Dr Troughton.

“That doesn’t mean it is right and we’ve got to make sure we do things properly, but it is not fair to say we are doing worse than other hospitals.”

A GWH spokesman said: “Of the three million patients we cared for in the last two years, we know that the vast majority of these patients have received excellent care, but unfortunately on rare occasions errors do occur.

“We take incidents like this very seriously and when mistakes are made they are swiftly and safely rectified, and patients are informed. It is important that we also look at why these mistakes happened in the first place and how we can prevent them happening again.

“We have a policy called ‘Being Open’ which sets out how we communicate with patients and relatives when we get things wrong. “This involves discussing with patients what actions we have taken.

“When mistakes happen we encourage our staff to report them so that we can learn from them.

“We have a policy of being open and transparent as we know that transparency saves lives and improves care. This is why we publish details of never events and share investigation results and learning outcomes with staff.”