TWO patients were left with surgical swabs inside them after an operation in Portlaoise Hospital, a senior HSE executive confirmed yesterday.
The latest revelations of blunders involving adult patients at the crisis-hit hospital come as the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) confirmed it is to go ahead with an investigation into its standards of care following the death of four babies in the maternity unit over six years.
Phelim Quinn, HIQA's Director of Regulation, said the investigation will include an assessment of the patient safety culture at Portlaoise.
He added: "The investigation team will review the arrangements for providing safe, quality clinical care, which will include how the hospital focuses on the needs of patients, the management and leadership at the hospital."
It will also review the systems and processes that support safety and quality and the communication between staff and patients, particularly when patient safety incidents occur and when complaints are made.
Earlier, HSE Director of Acute Services Ian Carter told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children that swabs had also been left inside two patients at the hospital.
Responding to questions from senator John Crown, he said one of the swabs was left in by a consultant and another by a junior doctor.
Mr Carter was appearing before the committee with Health Minister James Reilly and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan to discuss the recent Department of Health report, which found Portlaoise maternity unit to be unsafe.
Dr Reilly said he could not give an assurance that some of the failings found in the Portlaoise unit were not happening around the country.
"It is not good enough for hospitals to tell us they are doing something. We need outside monitoring of hospitals," he told the committee.
"This report shows that the planned patient safety agency has a vital place in our health service. The agency will be established shortly and applications for a chief executive will be invited. It will be a patients' champion supporting patients to ensure they receive an appropriate response to safety issues."
Questioned by members on the impact of staff shortages at the Portlaoise maternity unit, Dr Holohan said he was not saying this was not an issue but it is not an explanation for what went wrong.
"For me it is an over-simplification of a very complex story," he added.
His report had pointed to the rise in births in the unit, which was not matched by staff as well as vacancies in senior positions.
However, this does not explain how patients were treated and understaffing does not abdicate the responsibility to maintain standards of behaviour. He believed that some of the "ingredients" found during his examination of Portlaoise maternity unit would also be found in other units which are not training sites.
The HSE has now begun a recruitment campaign for more nurses in Portlaoise after installing new interim management.