762 ‘Never Events’ Occurred Between 2009 and 2013, BBC Investigation Finds

762 ‘Never Events’ Occurred Between 2009 and 2013, BBC Investigation Finds

762 patients at NHS hospitals were the victims of ‘never events’ between 2009 and 2013, a new BBC investigation has found.

‘Never events’ are preventable mistakes deemed so serious that they should never happen. There are 25 incidents that fall into this category, including air embolisms, misidentification of patients and severe scalding.

In the BBC investigation, however, the 762 cases mainly fell into one of four categories; foreign objects being left in the body following surgery, surgery being performed on the wrong body part, feeding tubes being inserted into the lungs rather the stomach and wrong implants and prostheses.

Of the cases, 322 involved a foreign object being left in the body following surgery. This is mainly due to carelessness over the course of a surgical procedure and is a completely inexcusable incident.

214 cases involved surgery being performed on the wrong body part; this could potentially be down to carelessness or miscommunication between departments. 73 cases involved feeding tubes being inserted into the lungs, a mistake that can potentially be fatal. 58 cases concerned the wrong implant being made or the wrong prostheses being fitted.

Although these events are among the most serious in medical negligence terms, they haven’t been widely reported in the past. Part of the reason for this is that hospitals have little to no incentive to report such incidents, as they will be held responsible for reimbursing the NHS for the botched procedure, as well as the long-term care of the patient.

Taken into context, the 762 cases reported don’t actually sound like that many; after all, 4.6 million patients are admitted to surgery every year and most of these operations pass off without incident and with the patient making a full recovery.

However, 762 is still far too high a number for incidents that are regarded so serious that they should never happen. While deemed ‘never events’, actual estimates put the likelihood of a never event happening to a patient at around 1 in 20,000.

What makes the figure even more worrying is the fact that the majority of the incidents classified as never events are so easily avoidable yet still occur. Despite this, it’s not entirely the fault of the operating surgeon; with budgets tight and pressure on health professionals as high as it has ever been, these kind of incidents are inevitable.

The good news is that NHS England are taking steps to be more open about the occurrence of never events by collating data on the incidents, data that will also help the NHS prevent such incidents occurring in the future. The NHS has also adapted the World Health Organisation’s patient safety checklist.

If you feel that you, or a loved one, has been the victim of medical negligence, get in touch with the specialists at Pearson Hinchliffe by calling 0161 785 3000 or emailing john.pollitt@phsolicitors.co.uk.