Serious NHS safety incidents up by a quarter since 2010
The number of reported NHS accident and incidents resulting in death or severe harm to patients has risen by a quarter since the Coalition came to power and now tops 10,000 a year.Campaigners claim that cuts to frontline staff have had an impact on patient safety, with doctors and nurses increasingly having to work in unsafe conditions.
However the Department of Health denied their assertions, saying the rise was the result of a culture of better reporting of incidents, which should be welcomed.
Statistics released by the NHS Commissioning Board show the number of patient safety incidents in England that resulted in death or severe harm, rose to 10,102 between April 2011 and March 2012.
By comparison, the number was 7,867 between October 2009 and September 2010, during which period the Coalition came to power.
John Lister, director of campaign group Health Emergency, claimed tighter budgets and reduced headcounts had contributed to the rise.
He said: “We’ve got a squeeze on staffing levels, meaning more reliance on agency staff and people working in less than ideal conditions. If you talk to anybody working in a hospital they will tell you that.”
He also said the “constant reorganisation” of the NHS meant the issue was not being tackled as it should be.
Peter Walsh, chief executive of the charity Action on Medical Accidents (AvMA), described the increase as “very worrying”.
He thought some of the rise was due to better reporting, but said that could not entirely explain it. In previous years most incidents of such seriousness would have been reported, he argued.
Examples of incidents resulting in severe harm or death could include overdoses, giving people the wrong medication, operating on the wrong site and giving a patient the wrong type of blood, he said.
A Department of Health spokesman emphasised that the most recent figure included – for the first time – suicides of people who had been in care. Without that, the number would have remained below 10,000, she said.
She said: “More reported deaths doesn’t mean more deaths or poorer care – it shows that the NHS is taking its responsibility to report incidents seriously.
“Evidence shows that trusts with higher reporting rates are likely to be safer for patients. We are determined to create a safer NHS and regular reporting is central to this. We expect all patients to receive high quality, safe and effective care.”