Catalogue of harm to NHS patients is revealed

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More than 110 “adverse events” which could expose NHS patients to serious harm are being recorded across Lothian every week, new 
figures have revealed.

Since 2007, just under 36,000 of the incidents have been found across NHS Lothian, including 13,000 falls, more than 1000 relating to medication and 142 in surgery.

Almost 1700 of the incidents led to death or major harm, with a further 6000 resulting in moderate harm to a person, the information released under the Freedom of Information Act reveals.

It also emerged that the health board has paid out £27 million in compensation over a five-year period, including almost £26m to patients and a further £658,000 to staff.

While classifying an incident as an adverse event does not necessarily mean the NHS was to blame or that anyone was harmed, patients groups said today that many would have been preventable and that staffing shortages may lie behind some of the incidents.

Dr Jean Turner, a former independent MSP and executive director of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “These reports are very important. It’s vital that health boards investigate these numbers and learn from them. They need to find out why these things are happening and how they can be put right.

“If health boards do their jobs first time then it’s better all round. Prevention is always better than the cure.

“I always think falls are a great indicator of staffing levels. You can never prevent every fall but the fact that they’re appearing in consistently high numbers should be an indication to look into what can be done about this.” In the 2012-13 financial year, there were 1356 cases of violence, aggression or harassment recorded as adverse events, alongside 379 relating to pressure ulcers or bed sores, 168 regarding clinical sharps and 78 burns or scalds.

Jackson Carlaw, Conservative health spokesman, said that it was important that errors were not “swept under the carpet” with compensation payouts.

He added: “Accountability and the desire to learn lessons are critical, as is the ability and willingness of hospitals to offer sincere apologies.

“Often all a patient or relative who has been wronged wants is some acknowledgement of the incident. In these times of pressured budgets, we cannot afford to be spending millions on compensation claims that could be avoided.”

Dr David Farquharson, NHS Lothian’s medical director, said: “We have processes in place to reduce and minimise the risk of adverse events to patients, public and staff.

“Recommendations produced as a result of an investigation are put into practice to ensure lessons are learned and reduce the likelihood of a 
similar adverse event.

“Our incident management policy is designed to promote safety.”

Bed sores major concern to health chiefs

ONE of the areas which is most likely to be of concern to health chiefs is pressure ulcers.

The injuries, also known as bed sores, are caused when patients lie in the same place for a long period of time.

However 379 adverse incidents involving bed sores were recorded across NHS Lothian in 2012-13.

Helen Millar died at the Royal Infirmary last year, aged just 54.

Her sister Moira Phair said that the family were left to move Ms Millar to prevent bed sores, which left her in unbearable pain.

Ms Phair said: “We got her home on a day visit and she was in agony. It wasn’t until we got back to the hospital that we found they’d forgot to redress them. They could have been prevented.”