6,872 incidents linked to severe harm and England’s news media look away


Harm caused by patient  safety incidents regrettably occurs in all health care settings, usually (and we trust) despite the best professional practice of the medical staff. Media coverage of the more serious incidents could provide a rich, endless seam of stories for journalists should they choose to cover them. And it seems that some are keen to do so, at least in Scotland.

The National Reporting & Learning System (NRLS) collects data on patient safety incidents in England and Wales. The primary purpose of the NRLS is TO ENABLE LEARNING from patient safety incidents occurring in the NHS.

Reporting to the NRLS has increased year on year since its inception in 2003: ‘it is anticipated that this will continue to increase as the culture of reporting all incidents spreads more widely and deeply across the NHS. Therefore, the NRLS DOES NOT PROVIDE THE DEFINITIVE NUMBER OF PATIENT SAFETY INCIDENTS occurring in the NHS ..’ (my emphasis) In other words it gives a minimum number.

Reports to the NRLS of patient safety incidents are broken down by degree of harm: no harm, low, moderate, severe, death.

Diverse patient safety incident types are reported: including but not limited to
– Patient accident
– Treatment, procedure
– Medication
– Infrastructure (including staffing, facilities, environment)
– Clinical assessment (including diagnosis, scans, tests, assessments)
– Infection Control Incident
– Medical device / equipment.

Here are some extracts from the database for the period 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022. In this period, across all NHS England settings, there were 5,803 incidents associated with a death and 6,872 incidents linked to severe harm.

The figures just for general/acute hospitals in England:
– Incidents resulting in severe harm = 4,374
– Incidents resulting in death = 2,506

The figures just for mental health services in England:
– Incidents resulting in severe harm = 1,213
– Incidents resulting in death = 2,355

Source https://www.england.nhs.uk/publication/national-patient-safety-incident-reports-up-to-june-2022/

Each instance of severe harm or death linked to a patient safety incident is a tragedy; it requires investigation; the professionals involved need held to account; and learning enabled/shared to avoid repetition as far as possible.

How do journalists, how do opposition party politicians, decide on which of the many serious patient safety incidents in the NHS across the UK to focus public attention on? Might location be a critical determining factor in their choices?


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