NHS does not know how many deaths result from patient safety incidents, says APIL’s legal services manager

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The NHS “does not really know” how many deaths result from patient safety incidents because it is not collecting the right data, according to Helen Blundell, the legal services manager at the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).

Referring to research carried out by the National Audit Office, Blundell said that it was estimated that there may be between 2,181 and 34,000 deaths a year that could have been prevented with better procedures within the NHS.

She wrote in a blog that the National Audit Office report had found “that there was no systematic pattern as to how trusts determined what incidents required a detailed investigation”. At one Trust, she quoted the report as saying that “they assess the ‘ooo-er factor’ of an incident – that is, whether an incident is serious, potentially serious or unusual and therefore may warrant further investigation”.

Blundell said that if the NHS were an airline then no-one would ever dare fly.

“If the lower end [2,181 deaths] is correct, that’s 5.9 preventable premature deaths a day. If the higher number is correct, that’s five 747 jets falling out of the sky every month.

“Imagine if any other industry was allowed to continue to kill and injure its customers and get away with it on a similar scale: there would be an international outcry. It is intolerable that the NHS is allowed to continue to operate with this degree of death and injury and high time it took urgent action to change.”

At a recent APIL conference, Blundell said that she had been shocked to find out from a Department for Health civil servant that the NHSLA’s liabilities were the second biggest debt across all Government departments – after nuclear decommissioning.

“How on earth has the NHS and the NHSLA allowed things to get so out of hand?” she said.

“Who, in the Department of Health’s hierarchy, thought that it was good practice to allow the NHS to be so negligent, so often, that its liabilities just ran away from any form of control?

“It’s all very well for the DoH and NHSLA to talk about the NHS’s need to be a learning organisation and to support changes to prevent harm in the first place, but some concrete action is urgently needed.”

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Marek Handzel

Marek Handzel is the editor of Claims Magazine. Marek welcomes articles, letters, or feedback from readers and can be reached by emailing marek.handzel@barkerbrooks.co.uk