Anaesthetic equipment plays a central role in anaesthetic practice but brings the potential for malfunction or misuse. We aimed to explore the national picture by reviewing patient safety incidents relating to anaesthetic equipment from the National Reporting and Learning System for England and Wales between 2006 and 2008. We searched the database using the system’s own classification and by scrutinising the free text of relevant incidents. There were 1029 relevant incidents. Of these, 410 (39.8%) concerned patient monitoring, most commonly screen failure during anaesthesia, failure of one modality or failure to transfer data automatically from anaesthetic room to operating theatre. Problems relating to ventilators made up 185 (17.9%) of the reports. Sudden failures during anaesthesia accounted for 142 (13.8%) of these, with a further 10 cases (0.9%) where malfunction caused a sustained or increasing positive pressure in the patient’s airway. Leaks made up 99 (9.6%) of incidents and 53 (5.2%) of incidents arose from the use of infusion pumps. Most (89%) of the incidents caused no patient harm; only 30 (2.9%) were judged to have led to moderate or severe harm. Although equipment was often faulty, user error or unfamiliarity also played a part. A large variety of causes led to a relatively small number of clinical scenarios, that anaesthetists should be ready, both individually and organisationally, to manage even when the cause is not apparent. We make recommendations for enhancing patient safety with respect to equipment.
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