No shortage but just poor stock maintenance by government hospitals in Chennai

Some of the biggest government hospitals in the city are reusing syringes on multiple patients, often one syringe for over two dozen patients, putting them at risk for deadly infections.

According to sources in these hospitals, syringes end up being reused not because of short supply but poor maintenance of stock.

Reuse of syringes may not be as deadly as reuse of needles, but it nevertheless exposes patients to blood-borne diseases, such as Hepatitis B and C, which can be life-threatening.

The practice is more prevalent in the medical, surgical, obstetrics and gynaecology wards at a number of such hospitals, including Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, Government Stanley Medical College Hospital and a few institutions attached to them. The sources said syringes are reused mostly for intravenous (IV) injections, which do not require a needle when given through IV line. However, when the medicine is administered directly through the vein needles are needed. Occasionally, they are reused even to administer intramuscular and intradermal injections, which require a needle. Needles, however, are not reused.

A doctor at the Stanley Hospital recalled an occasion when a single 2-ml syringe was used for an entire night on nearly 30 patients in a ward. “The stock of syringes is not maintained properly. Staff nurses lock them up in their cupboards once their shift gets over,” the doctor said, “We are forced to wash the syringes in spirit and saline solution and reuse them because we cannot afford to miss administering injections to patients.”

A visit to some of the wards at Stanley Hospital showed how at a given time only about five to six syringes were kept in a ward that holds at least 25 beds. The doctor said, “There are two ports on IV line. If we inject the syringe into the side port, there are higher chances of drawing blood as it directly goes into the vein. So, we inject using the port on the top, which is relatively safer. We know this is unsafe and unethical, but we are forced to do this.” Another doctor said, “Suppose a ward has 25 patients and each patient needs three injections a day, we need a total of 75 syringes. But we have only 25-30 syringes at our disposal. Staff nurses have to maintain stock of syringes, but they are not doing their job.” Authorities , however, denied reuse of syringes. “We get adequate supply and maintain a proper stock. Syringes are disposed of after single use,” said a senior doctor at Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital.