Page last updated at 12:56 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009

Better NHS safety reporting call

Patients in a hospital
NHS staff are encouraged to report incidents that put patients at risk

An NHS watchdog has warned that trusts in England and Wales need to improve their reporting of patient errors.

It comes after data on patient safety "incidents" in individual NHS trusts showed wide variation, with some seemingly reporting no problems.

The Healthcare Commission said there was a "significant gap" between what was reported and the reality.

But the National Patient Safety Agency who collect the figures say reporting of incidents is improving.

The NPSA has been collecting data on patient safety incidents since 2003 and in that time there has been a fairly dramatic increase in the numbers of incidents reported, from just over a hundred to more than 250,000 in a three-month period.

It follows a drive to encourage staff to report errors in order to learn from mistakes and prevent them happening in the future.

But this is the first time they have given a trust by trust breakdown.

We believe that an organisation with a high reporting rate is much more likely to have a strong commitment to patient safety and high safety standards
Martin Fletcher, NPSA

Of 391 NHS organisations, 32 did not report any incidents between April and September 2008 or submitted too few reports to be included.

Where incidents were reported, the most common problems are patient accidents, followed by treatments and procedures and medication related incidents.

Less than 1% of incidents were regarded as severe and 65% of them resulted in no harm to the patient.

Better reporting

The NPSA said NHS staff are more likely than ever to raise a patient safety concern and that organisations with high reporting rates are more likely to have high safety standards as they are dealing with problems that arise.

But the Healthcare Commission said trusts can still do better.

Chief executive Anna Walker said: "We know that a significant gap exists between the number of incidents that are reported by the NHS and the number that happen in reality.

"Trusts need to make sure they are looking carefully at this data to identify any patterns or trends and to compare themselves with other similar organisations."

She said trusts needed to think about how to learn from incidents.

"At the same time, trusts with low levels of reporting need to consider very carefully, whether this is accurate, and whether they truly know what is going on in their organisation."

Martin Fletcher, chief executive at the NPSA, said welcomed the fact that rates of reporting were increasing.

"If we don't know where the problems are, then we can't fix them.

"We believe that an organisation with a high reporting rate is much more likely to have a strong commitment to patient safety and high safety standards."

Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association, said the reports on individual trusts were "long overdue".

"Patients need local information on which to base their treatment choices.

"It needs to be in an easily understandable and accessible form or patients cannot give truly informed consent and make comparisons."



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