• Four out of five wall suction devices past expiry date
  • Trust hopes to replace them by mid-June
  • Trusts were warned of issues in 2011

A hospital trust has warned it could face a “catastrophic” situation through the contamination of outdated equipment.

Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals Foundation Trust has “insufficient and outdated portable equipment” to provide cover if its current wall suction machines have to be closed down for disinfecting for 24 hours, according to its risk register.

A report to April’s board revealed that 75 per cent of the existing wall suction devices have passed the manufacturer’s expiry date, and the companies which supplied them could no longer guarantee the “integrity of the devices for use on patients”.

Five different types are in use across the trust, four of which are “outdated and expired”. The problems were rated as “major” on the trust’s risk register.

The issue came to light when bedside equipment did not work during an emergency in January, causing a delay in a patient’s treatment. The trust said an alternative device was used and there was no harm to the patient – but that an audit of wall suction devices was immediately launched.

“The audit results demonstrated there was a gap in the standardisation of equipment for which we now have a robust action plan in place to address and replace the rest of the equipment as quickly as possible by mid-June,” it said in a statement. The cost of this expected to be £33,750. 

“In the meantime we are confident that should any patients require suction this can be delivered in a safe and effective way using either wall mounted or mobile equipment that has been checked and maintained and is in full working order.”

It insisted that contamination of the vacuum system was “unlikely” and that “robust mitigations” were in place.which is it was rated as a major risk rather than catastrophic. 

Wall suction devices are used when patients’ airways need clearing to help them breathe, especially in critical care situations or where resuscitation is needed. Between 2005 and 2009 there were 104 serious incidents involving them – including seven where problems with suction equipment is thought to have contributed to deaths.

These led to the National Patient Safety Agency notifying trusts over a lack of training and poor checking procedures and warning them to ensure staff were regularly trained in their use. Standardisation of models within trusts was also recommended. However, unlike formal alerts there is no system for trusts to notify whether or not they have complied with suggestions made by the now-defunct NPSA.

Ashford and St Peter’s said it had responded to the NPSA warning in 2011 by standardising equipment in areas where it was frequently used, developing education on set up and usage for clinical staff, and introducing daily checks.

However, the risk register said the lack of standardisation made it difficult to “reinstate training” and warned there was a lack of ownership across the trust with no one department willing to take on responsibility for the standardisation and procurement process.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said that it has received three reports since the start of 2015 involving suction equipment which had not worked properly and the root cause was use of either the device or component past the recommended lifetime.


Update: this report was updated at 11.25 on May 3rd to include details of the likely cost of new equipment and the trust’s mitigations,