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Automatic syringe ‘may have caused many early NHS deaths’

By Ryan Wilkinson

A whistleblower has warned that the common use of a type of automatic syringe by the NHS could have resulted in widespread premature deaths among elderly patients.

The devices, to deliver drugs including powerful opiate painkillers, were permitted to be used until 2015 despite warnings over the risk of fatalities from user error going back to the 1990s.

Doctors had cautioned that confusing two models of the infusion pumps could lead to a day’s dose of drugs being delivered in one hour.

The whistleblower on the Government inquiry into hundreds of deaths at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital spoke to the Sunday Times after the panel’s report was limited in its findings on the devices.

“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?’,” they told the paper.

A 2008 paper by the NHS’s now-defunct Purchasing and Supply Agency (PSA) said the devices were an “essential component of palliative care”.

Around 40,000 of the devices — a quarter of the worldwide total — were in the UK, the majority in primary care.

Doctors had raised concerns over the Graseby MS26 and Graseby MS16A after cases emerged of the devices, known as drivers, causing dangerous over-infusion of drugs because of confusion caused by differences in their function.

The PSA said the devices, which appeared “very similar aside from colour”, delivered drugs at different rates.

“Confusing MS16A (which delivers in mm per hour) with MS26 (which delivers in mm per 24 hours) can result in an infusion rate 24 times higher than required, and numerous adverse incidents of their type have been reported,” the PSA said.

The devices had been designed before the introduction of standards intended to ensure the safety of such infusion pumps, the PSA added. Hazard notices were issued by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and its predecessor to ensure NHS staff knew the difference between the models.

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