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Clinical Negligence Solicitor Paul Sankey on Patient Safety

The Health and Social Care Bill will transform the landscape of our NHS hospitals. Will it ensure greater patient safety and fewer avoidable Medical Negligence errors?
One of the problems in our Healthcare system is the under reporting of ‘adverse incidents’. Whilst most NHS staff are dedicated, conscientious and careful, mistakes will happen. Without proper reporting it is difficult to identify where things go wrong and how to avoid errors. It is the task of The National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) to improve patient safety by assisting staff to identify where things go wrong. The NPSA recognised that incidents were often not reported because staff were too busy, no harm had been done or people were frightened of blame. Whereas in the airline industry staff face disciplinary action if they fail to report errors, in the NHS people fear disciplinary action if they do report errors.
It has been estimated that there are 900,000 adverse incidents in NHS hospitals each year leading to 3 million extra bed days at a cost of around £1 billion per year for those bed days alone (1). There is some evidence that only 5% of adverse incidents are in fact reported.
So how does the Health and Social Care Bill address the need for improvements in patient safety? Under the Bill the first duty of the Secretary of State will be ‘to secure continuing improvement in the quality of services provided’. However in practice the Bill is largely silent on the point. Among 101 other priorities the need to ensure patient safety is largely overlooked. The government’s response would probably be, ‘But is goes without saying…’. That is not enough. The priority of patient safety needs to be given voice and reflected in proper systems of reporting.
Reducing the cost of healthcare is a laudable goal provided it does not lead to inadequate care. One of the ways of reducing that cost is to find ways of avoiding errors. Errors lead to direct costs to hospitals in the form of extra bed days and the need of continuing care. They lead to indirect costs on other government services, particularly in the provision of social care, and in claims for damages for negligently injured patients.
It is disappointing therefore that a Bill which seeks to improve healthcare and lower its cost should largely neglect the importance of patient safety.
Our Clinical Negligence Solicitors are experts inClinical & Medical Negligence Claims. Please call 0800 916 9049, email Our dedicated Medical Negligence Solicitors will be able to offer you a free initial consultation.(1). Vincent C, Neale G, Woloshynowych M. Adverse events in British hospitals: preliminary retrospective record review. BMJ2001;322:517–19.
(2) Vincent, C, ‘The essentials of patient safety’, 2011.