The scandal involving syringe drivers may have been used for 20 years even when authorities knew they were dangerous.
The scandal involving syringe drivers may have been used for 20 years even when authorities knew they were dangerous. Iain Curry

‘Silent killer’ no one saw coming

THOUSANDS of patients throughout the United Kingdom may have died in a faulty equipment scandal that is threatening to engulf the entire National Health Service.

It emerged at the weekend syringe drivers used by the NHS may have led to the deaths of thousands of people who were at their most vulnerable. The syringes were contained within plastic devices and were designed so drugs were released into a patient's bloodstream, without having to be manually injected by a doctor or a nurse.

But a Sunday Times investigation has found the syringe drivers were found to have given the wrong amounts of drugs. A common problem appeared to be staff would mix the different syringes up, which led to fatalities.

There were two types of syringes that were easily confused because they looked almost identical. One delivers the drugs over 24 hours, but the other does the same job in an hour - meaning patients were pumped with drugs that should have been given over a day in just 60 minutes.

Staff used to be come so confused they were forced to use aluminium strips on them to tell them apart.

A whistleblower told the paper the issue was suppressed by authorities who were investigating a doctor suspected of being responsible for a string of patient deaths.

A long-awaited government report last week found Dr Jane Barton - dubbed Dr Opiate - was responsible for hundreds of patient deaths because she prescribed diamorphine to them when they didn't need it.

The original investigation into Dr Barton ignored the problems and concerns into the syringes, something the whistleblower said "could be one of the biggest cover-ups in NHS history".

"Anyone who has lost their granny over the past 30 years when opiates were administered by this equipment will be asking themselves, 'Is that what killed Granny?'"

The syringes were eventually banned in 2015 - 20 years after concerns were first raised and seven years after Australia decided they didn't met minimum health and safety standards.

The whistleblower alleged the panel decided to ignore the devices as compensation would have to be paid and a national scandal created.

The inquiry has rejected the claims though and insist the allegations were "completely unfounded".

Despite that, UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has ordered an inquiry.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "The Health Secretary has asked officials to urgently look into this matter, to ensure that no unsafe devices of this kind are being used."

The syringes should have been "withdrawn completely" by the NHS by 2015. Mr Hunt added officials would look at whether the health service acted quickly enough when it learned of the safety concerns.

According to ITV, the makers of the syringe drivers, Smiths Medical, said in a statement: "Smiths Medical notes the recent comment in relation to its MS 16A and MS 26 syringe drivers. We take any potential issue with our products incredibly seriously and will be fully investigating these allegations."


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