UK surgical instrument firms that outsource their manufacturing to Pakistan are putting patients at risk of injury and infection, according to a BBC Panorama report.
Factories in Pakistan used by most UK surgical instrument suppliers have a significant rate of mechanical faults and biological contamination, the programme claimed.
Two-thirds of the world’s surgical instruments are manufactured in the city of Sialkot in northern Pakistan, where 70% of the UK’s registered surgical instrument manufacturers are based.
Panorama found evidence of small firms in Sialkot inspecting finished surgical instruments only with the naked eye, or outsourcing manufacture to backstreet workshops that lacked quality control.
Faults observed in the instruments included rough edges, steel burrs and corroded metals. These are a possible cause of MRSA infections, because fragments of steel can penetrate surgical gloves and damaged surfaces can trap biological materials.
Barts and the London NHS Trust, the only Trust to check every surgical instrument rigorously, rejects almost 20% of them as potentially unsafe, the programme claimed.
Tom Brophy, technologist at Barts, said: “On more than one occasion a supplier has rung me up and said that the instrument you rejected, I passed it onto another hospital and they accepted it. Of course they’re going to accept it, because they haven’t checked it.”
He also said that he had received used instruments, contaminated with blood, being sold as new.
MHRA commented that it had “no evidence that non-compliant instruments are being supplied to the NHS”.
The programme follows reports on child labour and dangerous working conditions in the manufacture of medical equipment in Pakistan.