NHS safety alerts jump by a quarter in six months
The number of reported safety alerts involving NHS patients has risen sharply, with nearly 500,000 incidents in six months.
But fewer patients are dying or coming to seriuos harm as a result of medical errors in England, the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) said.
The figures show that 473,162 incidents were reported between April and September last year, compared with 379,345 in the same period in 2008.
The agency said that the year-on-year rise of nearly 25 per cent was positive because increased reporting meant that lessons could be learnt and patterns identified.
The number of incidents which resulted in death across England has decreased from 1,856 to 1,160. Cases that resulted in severe harm to the patient also fell from 3,643 to 2,412.
However, campaigners say that the level of avoidable mistakes is still unacceptably high.
The most commonly reported incidents were accidents involving patients, such as slips, trips and falls, which accounted for nearly 155,000 reports, a third of the total.
But there were nearly 51,000 cases of medication errors— such as administering the wrong type or dose of drug— and a similar number of delayed or wrong site procedures.
Under a new system of NHS regulation that began last month, hospitals and health authorities could face fines or possible closure if they fail to report anonymised details of “serious incidents” to the NPSA.
However, they are not obliged by law to provide details of such events to injured patients or their next of kin.
The campaign group Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA) has renewed calls for a legal duty of candour to apply to all trusts, to ensure patients and relatives are given full details if they are harmed.
Peter Walsh, chief executive of AvMA, said: “How can people have faith in a system that puts collecting data before being open with patients?
“We are not saying that the labour Government intended to legitimise cover-ups of medical accidents, but that is the effect.
“One would have thought that recent scandals such as Mid Staffordshire Hospital would have underlined the need to tackle the culture of cover-up and denial.”
Six unidentified trusts in England — two hospital trusts, three primary care organisations and an ambulance trust — did not submit enough data on incidents to be counted in the latest reporting period, the NPSA said.
But Suzette Woodward, the NPSA’s director of patient safety, said that overall the latest figures were “extremely positive”.
“[They] provide real evidence of an improved patient safety culture in the NHS with a decrease in the severity of incidents reported and a corresponding, real increase in the number of patient safety incidents reported to the NPSA.
“This trend is extremely positive and goes to show just how seriously frontline services view reporting and, more importantly, learning from incidents.”
Katherine Murphy, director of the Patients Association, said: “We welcome the increased reporting, but it is appalling that after constant pressure and now even plans to make reporting mandatory, that some organisations are still not reporting incidents sufficiently.
“Patient safety is supposed to be a priority and yet some trusts don’t even seem able to comply with basic recommendations about reporting.
“It raises the question of whether the managers at those organisations really are committed to patient safety.”
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