Patient Safety Improvements ‘Begin With Better Data’

Irwin Mitchell Urges Action After Release Of Dr Foster Report


Medical law experts have urged NHS bosses to make better use of key data to prevent future errors injuring patients after a report raised concerns about the patient safety information available.

Lawyers at Irwin Mitchell described as ‘worrying’ the fact that several hospital trusts had been found to be poor at recording incidents, but still reported a high number of so-called ‘adverse events’ – incidents in which a patient’s safety was found to be compromised.

And though David Body, who heads up the firms specialist team, welcomed improvements in the number of patient safety incidents being reported across the NHS, he stressed that until this figure reaches 100 per cent it is impossible to know if lessons are being learnt.

According to the Hospital Guide 2010, the trusts found to record high ‘adverse events’ despite poor data recording were:

• Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
• Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
• Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust
• North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust
• Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust

It has been suggested in the report that assessments should be carried out into the trusts above to ensure that all ‘adverse events’ are recorded correctly – a view shared by Body.

He said: "It is important to maintain perspective. Many millions of treatments are carried out every year and most patients receive a superb service from dedicated medical teams.

"But better data capture and recording, and better use of that data, is absolutely key to the NHS reducing the number of errors and learning vital lessons from past mistakes to ensure they don’t happen again.”

And the independent report, called Hospital Guide 2010 and compiled by Dr Foster Intelligence which considers the quality of service available at NHS trusts across England, suggested that the lack of accurate data meant the ‘true rate’ of incidents may actually be even higher, with even more patients affected by medical errors.

Body said: “Findings like this not only highlight serious concerns over patient safety that need to be addressed, but whether certain trusts are being completely honest with members of the public who rely on them.

“If they are recording only a small amount of data but reporting a high number of incidents, what does this say about the standard of care available at each of the ‘worst’ hospitals?

“It is worrying in this day and age that some NHS Trusts appear to be struggling to compile accurate and comprehensive data on something as important as patient safety.”

The Hospital Guide 2010 states that, generally, Trusts with high incident rates tend to have the most complete records about patients, adding “Trusts that are better at recording information are likely to be better at managing the problems”.

David Body concluded: “Many avoidable errors occur annually in NHS hospitals and it is vital that this is reduced for the sake of every victim. This can only happen if rigorous steps are taken to improve procedures and guarantee that information on every incident is properly recorded.

“The benefits are clear – better data recording could lead to improved patient safety and a reduction in errors. This in turn will go some way to cutting the costs faced by the NHS when it fails to learn lessons from past mistakes.”