Sharps “lost” in hospital laundry

Sharps “lost” in hospital laundry had been a widespread and common problem, though these days we hear so little about it. Has it really got any better?

Sharps dropped into hospital laundry, perhaps laid onto the bed during some emergency or other procedure had been particularly common. The inevitable consequence was of sharps injury to some nursing and support staff and especially to laundry workers who have little protection from injury and almost no protection by law.

We thought the problem had resolved. Full of self-praise, it was assumed staff were better trained, more aware, and performing more appropriately while being aware of and managing the considerable risk to others. Not so.

The reality is that most hospital and related laundry is handled automatically, from receipt in the laundry to final pressing and folding ready for reuse. Despite this, healthcare assistants and nurses, porters and drivers etc remain at risk since used laundry is bagged in fabric bags that offer no protection against sharps penetration.

A recent US news report identifies the ongoing problems experienced in laundries. The problem has not resolved, just moved away and is somewhat hidden by automation and by the commercial realities that make contractors less likely to complain!

Laundry automation reduces the risk to laundry staff, through by no means has the problem been solved. We just see injuries less often as laundry is handled automatically. The process is inherently safer though the risk has definitely not been resolved.

As an aside, I wonder how many surgical instruments “lost” in the operating theatre, as seen in the picture, have been matched by those “lost” inside a patient?

Great care must be taken in the use and disposal of all sharps. Too often, these find their way into the wrong waste container and it must be said that this is due to the callous and careless disregard of healthcare professionals. The consequences for others who might come into contact with those discarded sharps is all too obvious.

There is clearly need for better performance on the part of sharps users, and greater care in disposal. A need for better and more extensive training is obvious but the evidence if that this is lacking and most sharps safety training packages stop at the point of disposal to a sharps bin, but fail to consider other and most hazardous events.


Perhaps disciplinary action against individuals and NHS Trusts is necessary, through the professional Regulatory Bodies. HSE, and CQC etc, as well as litigation for personal injury/stress etc. Regrettably, that might be the only way to make a real difference.



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