Page last updated at 05:49 GMT, Thursday, 31 March 2005 06:49 UK

Patient death figures released

Paul Khan
Psychiatric patient Khan stabbed a stranger to death

New figures obtained by the BBC show there were nine suspected homicides involving people in the care of the Welsh NHS in under two years.

Information about suspected deliberate and unlawful killings is among a new assembly government system to track serious patient safety incidents.

In almost two years up to December 2004, 331 reports were made, with 200 deaths; 111 of these suspected suicide.

But a spokeswoman said the figures were "not particularly high".

The system of recording serious incidents involving patient safety started after a study in England found the NHS was poor at learning lessons when mistakes were made.

A patient safety incident is defined as: 'any event or circumstance arising during NHS funded care that could have or did lead to unintended or unexpected harm, loss or damage...'
Assembly government document

Amongst the Welsh figures for suspected homicide is the case of Paul Khan, a psychiatric patient being treated in the community who was jailed for life for stabbing a stranger to death.

However, not all the cases reported under the new system were substantiated by further investigation.

An example of this was a "suspected homicide" recorded from the Bodawen nursing home in Porthmadog.

The former matron, Avola Humphreys, was later cleared of the manslaughter of a patient after a court heard claims that disgruntled staff had manufactured evidence against her.

As for the other "suspected homicides", two of the nine are still being investigated by the police, and the assembly government said these had been recorded because the accused had some history of mental illness, although this may not have been a factor.

Incidents reported under the new system also include mistakes involving the wrong patient or body part, instruments being left inside people after surgery and errors over medication.

Reported serious incidents
Suspected homicides - 9
Suspected suicides - 111
Unexpected death - 80
Non-fatal incidents - 131

A Welsh Assembly Government spokeswoman said it expected overall figures to rise in the short term as more people were encouraged to report incidents.

"It is hoped in the future there will be a much more open culture for reporting incidents and much more patient involvement in the investigations with the ultimate aim of driving the figures down," the spokeswoman said.

The assembly government added that the figures were not considered to be particularly high, when research suggested a potential of between 8,500 and 17,000 serious incidents reported in England each year.

The leader of the organisation representing patients' interests in Wales agreed with that view.

"We should all be concerned about serious incidents of this sort and the personal tragedy they represent," said Peter Johns, director of the Board of Community Health Councils in Wales.

"But there are risks in health treatments," he added.

"And when you consider the total number of people undergoing treatment in a year, the comment about the number not being particularly high is probably not far off the mark."

Mr Johns said that the important thing was to see if there was a trend for a reduction of incidents over time.

The figures came in response to a request from the BBC Wales news website under the Freedom of Information Act about serious incidents involving patient safety in Welsh hospitals.



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