A hospital in Antwerp has called in 110 patients who may have been seriously infected while being treated by a poorly-disinfected endoscopy machine in October.
An endoscope is a machine consisting of a length of tubing which can be used to investigate the lungs, stomach or intestines. For example a colonoscopy, a common procedure which checks the large intestine for abnormalities that might signal cancer, is a form of endoscopy.
The patients in question underwent endoscopy in October at the Saint-Vincent hospital situated in the centre of Antwerp and part of the GZA group.
According to Kristiaan Deckers, medical director of the group, a routine quality control at the end of October revealed that there had been a fault in the machine which disinfects the endoscope.
“The technician had switched the two tubes of the device in mid-October. Disinfectant cocktails are sprayed along those tubes, which then end up in a kind of bath,” he told De Standaard. “But due to the error, the correct mix may not have entered the bath and the material was not properly disinfected.”
The reason for a two-week delay in discovering the mistake is being investigated, he said.
“But in principle it is extremely rare for an error to creep into those systems. We take samples from the disinfection baths in those devices at regular intervals. There are safety protocols for this. But of course we don’t do it every day.”
The risks are not minimal for the 110 patients who were treated during the period in question, he admitted.
“They could have contracted an intestinal infection, but there is also a risk of hepatitis B or C,” Dr Deckers said. In the worst case, someone may have contracted HIV.
“Although that chance remains extremely small, because you need large volumes of contaminated blood for the virus to be transmitted.”
The hospital is now considering legal action against the manufacturers of the disinfecting machine.
“This is a serious blow to the hospital, and certainly to the gastro-enterology department, which has an excellent reputation,” Deckers said. “That is why the GZA hospitals will hold the manufacturer of the disinfection device legally liable. Maintenance is their responsibility. The consequences of the mistake too.”
In the meantime the patients in question will be called in to the hospital for blood tests, free of charge. In the case of a negative result, the patient will be examined again in six months.
“We don’t want to take any chances,” Dr Deckers said.