How Long Before 'Never Events' Never Happen Again?

23rd February 2016 Clinical Negligence

There is a fairly obvious reason why some avoidable errors are referred to as 'never events' by the National Health Service. Quite simply, they are adjudged so serious that they should never happen.

Even so, the rate at which they happen suggests that the measures put in place by the NHS to prevent such grave mistakes are just not working.

Figures released by the NHS show that more than 1,100 patients have been the unwitting victims of 'never events' in the last four years.

These are no trifling, insubstantial matters either. More than 400 people suffered so-called 'wrong site surgery'. They included a man who had a testicle removed rather than merely a cyst on it, a woman whose fallopian tubes were cut out instead of her appendix and an individual who had a biopsy taken from their liver when it should have been from their pancreas.

If that's not bad enough, in excess of 420 people needed further surgery or procedures to remove 'foreign objects' - gauze, swabs, scalpel blades and even needles left inside them after initial operations.

Other failures saw patients given unsafe, high dosages of drugs and feeding tubes inserted into lungs instead of stomachs. Both were the kind of errors which could easily have proven fatal.

I wish that I could say that I and my colleagues in JMW's Clinical Negligence Team had never had to deal with a 'never event'. Sadly, cases such as those which I've mentioned above - in which healthcare is inadequate are relatively common among our caseload.

That doesn't mean that they should, however, be regarded as acceptable.

Patients requiring treatment place their trust in the nurses and doctors looking after them. When they find that trust to be misplaced, regardless of the reasons why, it can make them and their families understandably anxious about seeking help thereafter.

Some of the problems happening every year are so serious as to be life-changing, if not life-threatening. Until avoidable errors are completely eradicated, there is a risk that patient confidence will continue to be undermined.

It is the responsibility of the NHS to finally ensure that 'never' means never.

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Eddie Jones is a Partner and Head of Department located in Manchesterin our Clinical Negligence department

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