When you go to your doctor or have to undergo a procedure in hospital, you expect that you will be kept safe from infection or risk of injury, but this is not always the case as has been well reported in the media. We take it for granted that only the best equipment is used that will protect us from danger. But how can we be sure? Metallurgical testing and analysis is important in any sector but none more so than the medical sector where lives can literally depend on the quality of the instruments and other equipment used in operating theatres, medical clinics and GPs surgeries. The wrong grade of material or defects in the instrument can have disastrous consequences.
Whilst much of the manufacture does take place in the UK, some instruments are now produced in low cost economies and quality control is crucial to ensure that the imported items meet the exacting demands of the NHS. A sample is checked for the material used in manufacture to ensure the correct grade has been used and, if the item has been coated, on the quality of the plating and material used. Different grades of stainless steel do react in different ways to the chemicals used so it is important to ensure the correct grade has been used for the application. For example, the chemicals used in transplants can attack certain grades of stainless steel which, if the wrong grade has been used, can result in the operation being aborted. A simple chemical test can identify the type of material.
During surgery, instruments can show defects or even fail completely and this may be due to a fault in the material, to a manufacturing defect or possibly to the way in which the instrument has been used. To eliminate the risk of re-occurrence, it is important that an in-depth investigation is carried out to identify the cause of the defect or failure. The investigation will include checks on the material composition and its properties. Examination of defects under a microscope will highlight any unusual characteristics and Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) examination will identify any discrepancies at high magnification including the nature of any material breaks
Once used, instruments are cleaned and sterilised. A common concern is the existence of staining after cleaning. This could be a result of corrosion, dried bodily fluids or chemical staining. An examination under the SEM will identify the nature of the staining and this will assist in elimination of its re-occurrence.
And it’s not only the instruments but all metalware used in surgeries and hospitals. Cracks in metal furniture and equipment could lead to its failure with the risk of injury. If this results in the collapse of a bed or operating table, this could result in further injury to someone that is already suffering. It is important to check any defects or failures to determine the cause and prevent it from happening again.
Guest Blogger: Alastair Lang - Doncaster Analytical Services Ltd