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Research reveals gulf between what patients & doctors believe is avoidable harm

A recent study by the University of Manchester highlights a concerning discrepancy between doctors and patients in relation to whether avoidable errors have caused harm.

According to the study, as many as one-and-a-half million people in Britain believe that they have been harmed by avoidable mistakes or failings at their GP practice, dentist, or walk in centre (Independent). Shockingly, the figure only represents patients who believe they have suffered avoidable harm within the past year and rises to three million people when preventable “near misses” are included.

The study of 4,000 patients is representative and 7.6% who took part believed that they had suffered from medical errors that have led to avoidable harm. When considered in light of the general population, this shows worrying numbers of patients who may have suffered from serious injuries due to preventable errors.

The types of errors listed are serious and had life-altering consequences such as a failure to spot that a recurrent nose bleed was actually cancer and the prescription of medication without necessary tests leading to cardiac arrest. There were also further serious cases such as a doctor failing to identify that a new mum had a retained placenta as well as missed or incorrect diagnosis and numerous medication errors.

However, the study shows that doctors are much less likely to judge as potentially harmful scenarios that patients see as a cause for concern. When reviewing the incidents, only 8% of doctors felt there were preventable problems that could lead to harm compared to 40% of patients (Medical Xpress).

The concerns of patients must be addressed otherwise patients will lost faith in the treatment provided. Patients must be able to trust that doctors are treating their concerns appropriately otherwise and working closely with patients can help re-build trust with the GPs and other clinicians.

Only around half of the patients discussed their concern with somebody working in primary care and patients must feel able to raise problems in care easily and discuss them with clinicians who will address the concerns to ensure care is felt to be safe by patients. Trust is an essential part of safe care.

It is also a concern that so many people consider they have suffered harm due to avoidable errors without an appropriate investigation having been undertaken. The duty of candour that now exists should lead to a more open and honest medical profession but the discrepancy found in this study raises concern as to whether patients are being informed about preventable errors that have led to harm given the discrepancy in the assessment of the incidents.



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