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OBJECTIVE: To reduce the incidence of retained vaginal swabs and near misses. STUDY DESIGN: A review of previous retained swab incidents and near misses in a large maternity unit identified handovers and transfers as a key point of vulnerability. Interventions were introduced to improve communication at handover from the delivery suite to theatre and from theatre to the high dependency unit. Process data was collected to monitor compliance. The outcome measures were the incidence of retained swab never events and the incidence of near misses. Chi-squared analysis was used to test the significance of the results. RESULTS: For transfers from delivery suite to theatre, verbal handover significantly increased from 28.8% to 75.6% (p<0.0001), and written handover significantly increased from 4.4% to 62.9% (p<0.0001). There were 291 transfers to theatre post-intervention: in 88 (30.2%) of these transfers a vaginal swab was already in situ. In 70/88 (79.5%) of cases the presence of the swab was communicated to theatre staff in three ways (verbally, written and transfer of opened swab packets) according to the new policy. In the post-intervention period there were 56 women transferred from theatre to the high-dependency unit with a vaginal pack in situ: 52 (92.9%) of these women had a sticker in place serving as a constant reminder of the presence of the vaginal pack to staff. Following a baseline of four near misses in two months, there has been only one near miss in the 15 months since the interventions were implemented, (33.3% vs. 1.1%, p<0.0001). There have been no retained swab incidents since the project commenced. CONCLUSIONS: Simple interventions to improve communication at handover and transfer can reduce the incidence of retained vaginal swabs and near misses. Further work is needed to raise the profile of swab counting in maternity settings: swab counting needs to be the responsibility of all disciplines, not just the responsibility of theatre staff.

Original publication




Journal article


Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol

Publication Date





50 - 56


Communication, Handover, Maternity, Never event, Retained foreign objects, Swabs, Communication, Delivery, Obstetric, Female, Humans, Medical Errors, Patient Handoff, Quality of Health Care