LEGAL EAGLE: Medical ‘never events’ in the NHS

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The Press Association has recently revealed figures that suggest around 300 patients each year are the victims of medical negligence that is so clear cut it is accepted they should never occur.

These can range from the retention at the time of an operative procedure of equipment such as scalpels, tubing and packing.

Other serious examples were reported of a woman’s fallopian tubes being taken out instead of her appendix and patients undergoing operations on the incorrect limbs and even eyes.

We have had recent cases ourselves of patients coming to us who have been the victims of such “never events” failing to understand how such obviously basic errors can occur in a hospital setting, particularly on the operating theatre table.

We can all expect the odd mistake to happen but when they are as basic as the examples that we have seen it is really difficult to understand.

Changes are now being brought in to effect change within the NHS that aim to prevent what can be severely debilitating and, on occasion, catastrophic mistakes occurring.

A patient safety group has long been campaigning for a duty of candour to be implemented on the NHS requiring them to report to patients when mistakes that they accept should not have occurred come to light. The government brought in legislation last year to impose this duty on the NHS.

This may well assist with the learning process but only if structures are put in place within hospital Trusts to learn by their mistakes rather than just report them.

The figures for “never events” are fairly static at the moment but the NHS has stated that in 2015 a set of national standards were published and sent to all hospital Trusts in England with a view to eradicating these forms of mistakes and we will have to wait and see whether there is an improvement.

Our clinical negligence team not only assists victims of medical negligence with advice concerning potential claims but also in relation to the NHS duty of candour including investigating whether it has been fully complied with by a particular hospital Trust so that lessons can be learned for the future.

If you think you or anybody you know has been affected by medical negligence you may find it useful to visit the following website where you will find some frequently asked questions and answers on the subject www.benhoarebell.co.uk/service/medical_negligence/