Overworked healthcare professionals blamed for medical errors

Patient safety is being put at risk by overworked medical staff who made 4,000 avoidable errors last year, it has been disclosed.

More than half of the blunders – 2,221 – were considered serious, resulting in deaths, injuries and patients being left in severe pain, according to new figures.

They included surgeons operating on the wrong person or part of the body, doctors making wrong diagnoses and prescribing dangerous doses of medication.

The newspaper submitted Freedom of Information requests to all 172 NHS trusts to obtain details of Serious Untoward Incidents (SUIs).

Of the 97 that responded, most refused to give details and just listed fatal errors as “unexplained deaths”, it said.

The Patients’ Association described all the mistakes as “avoidable”.

In one case in the North West a patient under the care of the Aintree University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust underwent the wrong urological procedure in May.

In July, a chest drain that had been wrongly inserted punctured a patient’s heart and in another case in October a tube was dislodged from the windpipe of a patient who later had a heart attack and died.

In the South East, where a total of 66 SUIs were reported, the wrong unit of blood was administered in January and a mother died of meningitis after giving birth in August.

Katherine Murphy, director of the Patients’ Association, told the newspaper: “These are all avoidable accidents. Patient safety must be paramount in every hospital. Saving money must not be put before patients’ lives.”

Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said staff shortages led to more errors.

“It is always deeply concerning to learn of any mistakes which have endangered the life of a patient,” he said. “But the fewer staff there are the more mistakes are made.”

According to the newspaper, the NHS paid out £264 million in compensation claims in 2008, plus £134 million costs.

The Department of Health said it was working with regulators to monitor improvements in patient safety.

“Unfortunately, as in any health service, unforeseen incidents occasionally happen.

“The independent National Patient Safety Agency, responsible for monitoring and reporting incidents, and the new independent regulator, the Care Quality Commission, with increased inspection and intervention powers, will help ensure we sustain improvements in safety and quality of care.”

The revelations come after the head of the former Healthcare Commission said in December that the NHS was only just out of the “starting blocks” when it came to ensuring patient care was as safe as it could be.

Sir Ian Kennedy said reporting mistakes and learning from them needed to be “internalised in the DNA” of NHS trust boards.

He added that there was a “black hole” in the information available about mistakes made in GP surgeries.

His remarks were made as the commission published a report calling for more coherent systems for reporting mistakes, saying the priority given to safe care varied among NHS trusts.

But the report said estimates suggested that one in 10 patients admitted to hospital would suffer harm as a result of an error.

In primary care, the report referred to a study carried out in 2001 which found that medical errors occur between five and 80 times per 100,000 consultations, “mainly related to the processes involved in diagnosis and treatment”.

The Healthcare Commission ceased to exist at the beginning of this month when a new regulator, the Care Quality Commission, took over its role and also adopted the work of the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) and the Mental Health Act Commission.


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