UK “never” surgical errors hit alarming new highs

A “never” event is one that is considered so serious by the medical community that it should never be allowed to occur. They are incidents that can be fatal in some circumstances, so it’s alarming to see that, in the UK the number of these surgical errors is on the rise, having doubled in number over the past 12 months.

Only the most severe mistakes are classed as “never” errors, with one of the most notable being the surgical malpractice of leaving medical instruments inside a patient’s body. The number of these cases rose from 163 to 299 in the past year, while in total 320 patients have suffered such indignity over the past 4 years. Other blunders that have put patients lives in danger include misplaced feeding and breathing tubes, along with the incorrect administration of insulin, which can prove to be fatal.

The new medical error statistics, which have been collated between 2011 and 2013, show that there has been an 84% increase in “never” incidents over the past 2 years. The BBC had previously investigated such events and found that over a 4-year period 762 patients fell victim to severe medical malpractice of this sort. The BBC investigation also revealed that 214 patients underwent surgery on an incorrect body part, while 320 patients were left with medical instruments inside of them post surgery.

As the news of these “never” errors becomes public, the NHS have revealed that they’ve been ordered to publish quarterly lists detailing such mistakes. This will allow hospitals to be compared in the amount of errors they make, while also allowing independent reviewers to see why and how such errors have been allowed to occur. NHS doctors have also been asked to detail the 25 types of incident that fall under the term of “never”.

The Department of Health has sought to address public concern by stating that they believe the figures haven’t doubled. Their argument is that on top of the initial 163 “never” events reported between 2011 and 2012, additional incidents were reported via alternative health authorities.

Peter Walsh, chief executive of campaigning patient victim charity, Action on Medical Accidents (AvMA), has responded to these reports by saying that it was quite perfectly to avoid these surgical errors entirely just by keeping to “standard procedures”.

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