Mortality fall shows Scots hospital safety improving

Alex Neil said the country now has the 'safest hospitals in the world'. Picture: Michael Gillen
Alex Neil said the country now has the 'safest hospitals in the world'. Picture: Michael Gillen
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HOSPITAL death rates have been driven down after the introduction of hardline patient safety regimes in wards across Scotland, official figures have shown.

• There has been a 12.4 per cent reduction in deaths since the introduction of the Scottish Patient Safety Programme in 2008

• The government claims it is the equivalent of more than 8,000 lives

• Aberdeen Royal Infirmary revealed today that the lives of more than 1,500 patients have been saved there since the introduction of the programme

An estimated 8,500 lives have been saved in recent years, according to NHS chiefs who say hospitals in Scotland are now among the safest in the world.

The improved safety measures, including closer checks on medicines and more ward rounds, are part of the Scottish Patient Safety Programme, which will now be rolled out to cover maternity units and mental health services.

The Scottish Government has come under fire in recent weeks, amid scandals over fiddled waiting lists and lengthy waits for patients in accident and emergency departments.

But health service statistics have shown that there has been a 12.4 per cent reduction in hospital deaths since the introduction of the safety programme five years ago.

Health secretary Alex Neil said: “Scotland has some of the safest hospitals in the world. It’s good to hear about the measures staff have put in place. They are small changes, but they make a big difference – and they save lives. Our NHS should be proud of what has been achieved.

“It’s because of success like this that we have decided to expand the safety programme to maternity units and mental health services. I know that there is some hard work ahead for NHS staff, but I am confident they will rise this challenge.”

Mr Neil visited Aberdeen Royal Infirmary yesterday to hear how staff are ensuring that patients do not suffer infections, blood clots and pressure sores.

Measures put in place as part of the national programme include a safety checklist to be completed before operations take place, more ward rounds, double-checking medicines and an early warning system for critically ill patients.

There were 5,794 deaths in Scottish hospitals between July and September last year – this is 900 below the expected figure in line with national data after accounting for diagnosis and the age of patients. It is also 400 down on the same quarter five years ago.

It means that the mortality ratio has fallen from 1.01 – when the number of hospital deaths exceeded expectations – to 0.87.

NHS Scotland clinical director Dr Jason Leitch said the programme had been a “significant factor” in driving down hospital deaths, alongside factors such as improved drugs and better care.

He said the safety programme was “unique in the world”.

“It’s doing the simple things every day to every patient,” he said. “That many seem counter-intuitive, but if you imagine the complexity of an operating theatre, sometimes simplicity is hard to find.

“It’s the ability to stop at the start of an operation and say, is this the right patient, is this the right side, is this the correct procedure, have we got all the instruments we need, do we have a bed for the patient?’”

Following a checklist – which is based on the experience of the airline industry – can reduce mortality in surgery by up to

50 per cent, according to the World Health Organisation.

Simon Paterson-Brown, chairman of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh’s Patient Safety Board, said the figures were “encouraging”.

But he warned: “We must not be complacent, and further work is required to improve the overall understanding of the whole NHS workforce on the importance of human factors in health care, and how this will lead to better teamwork and communication, two of the most important elements in improving patient safety.”

The Scottish Government also yesterday launched a system aimed at improving the performance of health boards, with funding of £2.1 million allocated to NHS National Services Scotland to implement the service. It allows boards to look at how they are doing across a range of areas, and compares clinical and other data across Scottish health boards, as well as health trusts throughout the rest of the UK.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume praised the work of NHS staff – but accused the SNP of creating “hurdles” to patient safety.

“Clinical negligence pay-outs are at their highest in five years, patients have been left to languish on trolleys and nurse numbers have dropped in their thousands,” Mr Hume said. “Our hospitals are working harder with less and with a health secretary who only wants to hear about the good news.”

But SNP backbencher Mark McDonald, who sits on Holyrood’s health committee, said: “While down south hospitals are getting privatised, the NHS here is going from strength to strength because we refuse to follow the same route.”