One in five patients ‘harmed’ in some hospitals

One in five patients in some NHS hospitals suffer harm due to avoidable accidents, complications and mistakes, it has emerged.

The data has been assembled via a monthly series of snapshots, gathered by frontline clinical staff since April

By , Medical Editor

6:00AM BST 31 Aug 2012

Official NHS data has shown that more than 20 per cent of patients in some organisations suffer from problems such as bed sores or suffer accidents such as falls while on wards.

Nationally just under one in ten, or around 41,000 people, were harmed, but this masks wide variation in individual hospitals, it was found.

The Department of Health has set a target to deliver “harm-free care” to 95 per cent of patients “by 2012”.

Officials admitted around 200,000 patients suffer common avoidable problems over the course of a year.

The NHS Safety Thermometer, launched in April, gathers data from all NHS hospitals covering patient problems such as bed sores and patient falls that can be avoided with good care.

It shows that, in July, six per cent had a pressure ulcer, one per cent developed a new blood clot, and 1.2 per cent had a “fall with harm” while receiving health service care.

An analysis by Health Service Journal found three hospital trusts where more than one in five patients suffered from avoidable accidents, complications or mistakes between April and July this year.

They were Torbay and Southern Devon Health and Care Trust with 23.5 per cent of patients, City Hospitals Sunderland Foundation Trust with 23.1 per cent and Airedale Foundation Trust with 20.5 per cent.

There were only 24 trusts that met the Department of Health targets to have fewer than five per cent of patients suffer harm from avoidable incidents.

The Airedale and Sunderland trusts were also the only two to report that more than 10 per cent of their patients had developed a blood clot under their care, which can be avoided with proper assessment and medication where necessary.

Twelve trusts reported that more than six per cent of their patients had suffered falls, and there were seven trusts which reported more than three per cent of their patients had developed a new bed sore.

The data also shows how some harms are more prevalent in different care settings. Hospital wards have lower rates of harm in all areas except urinary infections and blood clots.

Meanwhile, community hospital patients have a much higher rate of overall harm, with bed sores in particular more prevalent and patients cared for in their own home are less likely to suffer problems with the exception of bed sores.

The data has been assembled via a monthly series of snapshots, gathered by frontline clinical staff since April.

The July survey included data from more than 141,000 patients across 205 organisations, including private providers of NHS funded care.

Jacqui Fletcher, fellow of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and tissue viability nurse, said the overall figure of 91 per cent harm free was “better than expected”.

She said the exercise is raising the profile of patient safety at trust board level, and encouraging trusts to make changes that “ground level clinicians have been wanting to do for a long time”.

Ms Fletcher was optimistic that the NHS could still increase the overall harm-free figure to 95 per cent by the end of the year, as many of the changes required to improve performance were relatively simple to enact.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association said: “It’s shocking that any patient is admitted to hospital for treatment but can end up suffering from a fall or another condition that is totally avoidable given the right care from clinicians.

“Patient safety within all hospitals and NHS facilities has to be of paramount importance to all Trusts.

“These figures show the Government has a long way to go in meeting its own targets to reduce these cases. They represent a wake up call and Boards need to put patient safety at the top of their agendas.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Safe care is at the heart of a modern NHS. That is why we are introducing the Safety Thermometer across the NHS – so that hospitals can see where they need to improve and take action.

“The vast majority of patients receive safe care, but the Safety Thermometer will help to improve this still further. The number of organisations using it is rising fast, and a pilot across 160 NHS organisations last year showed an overall reduction in blood clots of 72 per cent and pressure ulcers of 42 per cent.

“Pressure ulcers, falls, urinary catheter infections and blood clots are among the most common preventable problems in hospitals and care homes and cost the NHS up to £1 billion every year. At least 200,000 patients experience one or more of these problems whilst being treated.”