Recent NHS figures show that during the last 4 years more than 750 patients have suffered from ‘Never Events’- mistakes which should never happen. These include surgery on the wrong part of the body – an error which happened to a shocking 214 people – and 320 people left with surgical instruments inside them.
I doubt that these figures are correct. Our Clinical Negligence team handles a significant number of Never Event claims every year. It seems likely that mistakes are under-reported.
Having said that, most of the claims we handle involve medical professionals making errors of judgment which fall short of being Never Events. They are negligent because there is no responsible body of doctors, even a minority, who would have done the same and they cause harm. However errors of judgment are one thing: Never Events are another. There is simply no excuse for them.
Examples of Never Events we have dealt with include:
1. A woman undergoing a repair to her bladder – but the wrong repair was done. She needed an anterior repair (at the front of her bladder) but underwent a posterior repair (at the back).
2. A child who suffered a serious Brain Injury and has been left permanently disabled because blood test results were entered in the wrong columns of a chart. Staff failed to notice that his blood glucose levels were dangerously low and failed to treat him until it was too late.
3. A woman who had made a serious suicide attempt who then sadly took her own life whilst on a surgical ward. Doctors had treated her physical injuries but not given thought to the obvious fact that she was still at risk of self-harm. The National Quality Forum regards suicides in healthcare facilities as Never Events. I have recently acted for families in 6 cases.
4. A woman who died of a haemorrhage after giving birth. She died because, although her bleeding was successfully stopped, she was not given the blood products to maintain her circulation.
5. Numerous patients who developed Pressure Sores in hospital. Some underwent amputations. Some died.
It has not taken me very long to think of a list of Never Event cases I am handling. At least 10 come to mind immediately. Bearing in mind that only a small minority of medical accidents give rise to claims at all, it seems more than unlikely that there have only been 750 Never Events in 4 years. This suggests that whilst a problem is negligent care, another is under-reporting.
By Clinical Negligence Solicitor Paul Sankey