NHS Blunders Kill 200 A Year

More than 200 patients died last year as a result of mistakes made by hospital staff while another 1,800 were made worse during treatment, it has been revealed.

{mosimage}Some patients were given overdoses of radiation or had healthy organs removed in operations, while others died after being wrongly attached to medical equipment.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that 2,109 events which could injure patients, staff or public – known as serious untoward incidents – were reported to health authorities in 2006.

At least 221 resulted in avoidable deaths, including a 76-year-old man who had a feeding tube inserted into his lungs instead of his stomach and a pensioner who was given air instead of pure oxygen. Hundreds more patients were made worse while in hospital because of wrong diagnoses or mistakes in treatment, such as a woman who had chemotherapy and surgery for ovarian cancer when she never had the disease.

At least 55 people were given the wrong medication or too much, with seven receiving an overdose of radiation. More than 100 suffered from serious delays in diagnoses or treatment.

There were 43 reports of serious equipment malfunction, one of which left a patient’s lungs filled with hot water after a respiratory humidifier broke down.

In one NHS trust, a pregnant woman was exposed to radiation which led to the termination of her pregnancy, while a teaching hospital reported a baby suffering fractured ribs and humerus while being delivered with forceps.

Hospitals also reported 172 outbreaks of communicable diseases, including 94 confirmed cases of the superbug MRSA. It is thought that injuries to patients cost the NHS £2 billion a year in compensation and legal fees.

Katherine Murphy, the director of the Patients’ Association, condemned the figures which were compiled from reports made by 141 of England’s 170 hospital trusts between December 2005 and December 2006.

She said: “These cases will shock and appal everyone who has to trust the NHS with their lives. Patient safety should be paramount. But with the NHS deficit, staff are not getting adequate training, which leads to mistakes.”

The Department of Health insisted most patients receive safe treatment, and said that more reporting of mistakes helps make sure they are not repeated.

A spokesman said: “The incidents reported by the acute trusts account for only a tiny proportion of the care and treatment carried out by NHS staff across the country.

“But we have to recognise that in our increasingly complex health service, mistakes can and will inevitably happen.”