BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Karen Allen
"Researchers have found that one in ten suffer from what's called 'an adverse event'"
 real 56k

Mike Stone, Patients Association
"Our reaction is one of shock but not complete surprise"
 real 56k

Professor George Alberti
"Medical staff have to work too quickly"
 real 28k

Prof Charles Vincent, report's author
"It's incorrect to say that huge numbers of people are dying."
 real 56k

Friday, 2 March, 2001, 08:07 GMT
One in ten 'harmed in hospital'
Some adverse events are avoidable
Almost 70,000 patients a year die partly as a result of "adverse events" they suffer during hospital stays, says a shocking report.

One in ten of all patients admitted to hospital is harmed by complications, half caused by medical mistakes of some kind.

The cost of the extra days in hospital needed is running to at least 1bn a year, said the research team from University College London.

Medical mistakes: the consequences
53-year-old man admitted for leg ulcer treatment
Failure to do this properly led to bone damage, requiring double amputation below the knee
In addition, incorrect management of urinary catheter left him with dying flesh on the end of his penis
A second catheter site became infected
He stayed an extra 26 days in hospital
The survey, published in the British Medical Journal, is the first which confirms the high level of damaging mistakes in UK hospitals.

A leading doctor said that the profession was failing to "learn from its mistakes".

The study looked at more than 1,000 medical and nursing records at two hospitals in London, then expanded these results to produce national predictions.

Researchers found that almost 11% of patients had suffered some sort of adverse event - some more than one.

In approximately 50%, the researchers judged that hospital staff should have prevented them happening.

Contributing to death

A third of the events led to "moderate or greater impairment" - in 19% of cases, the decline in their health as a result was permanent, and in 6%, the adverse event contributed to death.

The figures contained in the report were first aired last year by the Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, but have now been published in full in the British Medical Journal.

Professor Sir George Alberti, president of the Royal College of Physicians, wrote in an accompanying editorial that the "blame culture" in society put doctors and nurses off admitting mistakes.

He said: "If we are to learn from mistakes then we need to know about as many as possible so that corrective action can be taken.

"The main causes of adverse events relate to operative errors, drugs, medical procedures and diagnosis. Each of these is amenable to prevention."

However, he also admitted that mistakes were inevitable because there were too few medical staff, who were forced to work too quickly to cope with intense demand.

It's still the case that nobody knows exactly how many of these events are happening in UK hospitals each year

Marcus Ward
Marcus Ward, from the campaigning group Action for Victims of Medical Accidents said that the high numbers of adverse events revealed by the report was unsurprising.

He told BBC News Online: "It's still the case that nobody knows exactly how many of these events are happening in UK hospitals each year.

"This study only covered two hospitals, so their figure is only an estimate.

"The Department of Health should be funding the collection of more data."

The issue of medical mistakes has been highlighted recently by cases in which wrongly administered drugs killed two patients, and a three-year-old girl died after being given nitrous oxide gas instead of oxygen.

The author of the report, Professor Charles Vincent, said: "Adverse events are a major source of harm to patients and a major drain on NHS resources.

"Whether they are major events that are traumatic for staff and patients alike, or minor events that are frequent but go unnoticed in routine clinical care, together they have massive economic consequences for the provision of healthcare to use all."

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

14 Feb 01 | Health
Call for action after girl dies
01 Feb 01 | Health
Doctors put wrong leg in plaster
10 Feb 01 | Health
Patient dies after drug error
26 Jun 00 | Health
Doctors warn of more scandals
20 Nov 00 | Health
Parents 'not told of drug errors'
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories