On 17 November, there will be a Parliamentary launch event of the Surgical Fires Expert Working Group’s report 'A case for the prevention and management of surgical fires in the UK, which focuses on the prevention of surgical fires in the NHS'.
Unfortunately surgical fires are still a patient safety issue. Each year patients needlessly suffer burns during surgical procedures which leave them with long-lasting, life-changing injuries and burdens the NHS with millions of pounds of avoidable costs and liabilities. Despite this, there is not a consistent, standardised approach across the NHS to prevent them.
Kathy Nabbie, a theatre scrub nurse practitioner, shares how she implemented Fire Risk Assessment Score (FRAS) into her department.
Developing the FRAS
In January 2017, I read a tragic story in Outpatient Surgery involving an elderly patient in the US who suffered multiple burns following the use of chlorohexidine bottled alcoholic prep. I'd also read that in the US there are over 600 surgical fires every year. As the Practice Development Lead for my theatre department at the time, I decided to design a Fire Risk Assessment Score (FRAS).
I discussed the FRAS with my manager and my suggestion to add the FRAS to the 'Time Out' of our WHO Surgical Safety Checklist. To further develop my ideas, I attended one of the Association for Perioperative Practice (AFPP) study days. All the delegates were asked to discuss and write a plan to make an immediate change in practice on return to their theatre department. I planned the FRAS.
My manager who had originally agreed to my idea in January left in March, but I persevered with the idea and in July 2017 I made copies of the FRAS, discussed the score with senior staff, laminated the copies and placed one in each theatre. It was used as part of the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist Time Out.
One month later I moved on and started bank shifts as a scrub practitioner in theatres.
Fast forward 3 years
Imagine my delight on a bank shift in August 2020 to see the FRAS as part of the patient profile on the hospital computer system – which meant it was in all six hospitals!
So have fires decreased in theatres?
Research shows that fires are still occurring in some UK theatres, and around the world, where a score is not part of the 'Time Out'; where bottled alcoholic prep is still used and not allowed to dry for 3 minutes before draping; and where lighted cables are sometimes allowed to rest on paper drapes.
All perioperative staff need to have an awareness of surgical fires – where each flammable item used for the procedure is counted as 1 risk, and the score highlighted to the team and also documented before the start of the surgery. In doing this we can be reassured that we have taken all the necessary fire safety precautions for patients in our care, for the perioperative surgical team and also the preservation and the reputation of the hospital.
- The FRAS tool Kathy implemented
- Yardley IE, Donaldson LJ. Surgical fires, a clear and present danger. The Surgeon 2010; 8(2):87-92.
- Alani H et al. Prevention of surgical fires in facial plastic surgery. Australas J Plast Surg 2019; 28:40-9.
- Vogel L. Surgical fires: nightmarish “never events” persist. CMAJ 2018;190(4): E120.
- Cowles Jr CE, Culp Jr WC. Prevention of and response to surgical fires. BJA 2019; 8:261-266.