Hundreds of patients suffer NHS ‘never event’ errors

Errors included overdoses and wrong amputations

Monday, September 16, 2019

A total of 621 NHS patients have suffered from clinical errors so serious they should never happen, according to new data.

Among the so-called “never events” that occurred in NHS hospitals between April 2018 and July this year were operations on the wrong body parts and surgical tools being left inside patients.

Overall, 270 incidents related to surgeries on the wrong body part, while 127 were "foreign objects" left inside people after operations, including specimen bags, surgical gloves, needles and swabs.

On average, nine patients were victim each week to the “exceptionally traumatic” mistakes, with one person having the wrong toe amputated and two men being mistakenly circumcised.

One woman had a lump removed from the wrong breast, two had a biopsy taken from their cervix rather than their colon, and six others had their ovaries wrongly removed during hysterectomies – plunging them into menopause.

The figures revealed how several patients had procedures intended for someone else, including colonoscopies, lumbar punctures and laser eye surgery.

Six patients were given the wrong blood type during blood transfusions and 52 had the wrong teeth taken out.

Some mistakes were potentially fatal, with patients being given ordinary air rather than pure oxygen, and people falling from poorly secured windows.

Other incidents included feeding tubes being misplaced and put into patients' airways.

The provisional data shows that some hospitals have higher error rates than others.

Barts Health NHS Trust in London had the most blunders with 17 in total, with Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust the next highest with 13.

Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had 12 each.

Professor Derek Alderson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: "While these cases are very rare, never should mean never.”

He added that while never events are “exceptionally traumatic” for patients and their loved ones, they can also be “devastating for the surgeons and healthcare staff involved”.

An NHS spokeswoman said: "The NHS cares for over half a billion patients a year and, while incidents like these are thankfully extremely rare, it is vital that when they do happen hospitals investigate, learn and act to minimise risks.”

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