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NICE: Lives At Risk From IV Drip Errors

The Regulator Wants The NHS To Do More To Protect Patients From This Issue


The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has argued patient safety is being put at risk from errors in intravenous (IV) fluid care.

While it is a regular occurrence that in-patients at hospitals will be given an IV to help them overcome dehydration and fight infections, NICE has found that as many as 20 per cent of people given this treatment suffer from complications.

Figures released as part of the National Enquiry into Perioperative Deaths show that many doctors are not connecting the IV to relevant veins properly - something that makes infections much more likely.

Dr Mike Stroud, a consultant in Gastroenterology at Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust who is involved in the enquiry, said: "I estimate that tens of thousands of patients will have a complication related to IV fluids every year.

"It is astonishing really that doctors are not well educated in fluid therapy, but because it is not a speciality it has fallen through the cracks. This is a fundamental of safe care and needs to be done well to avoid complications."

In an attempt to resolve this issue, NICE is calling for healthcare professionals to be taught the 'five Rs' of IV management - resuscitation, routine maintenance, replacement, redistribution and reassessment.

But with this winter shaping up to be one of the busiest on record, nurses will likely have much less time to regularly check on the progress of IVs - especially with a number of trusts reporting a shortfall in the number of healthcare workers they were able to hire in 2013.

Research published last month by the Care Quality Commission, which regulates health facilities in both the NHS and private sector, found ten per cent of all hospitals operated by the Department of Health do not have enough staff.

It was also discovered that one third of all NHS employees said communication between senior managers and healthcare professionals was not effective - something that could further jeopardise care.

Expert Opinion
These figures are shocking and as with any medical issue that compromises patient safety, improvements must be made immediately.

“This is basic medical care and there is no excuse for it not to be carried out safely. IV drips are meant to assist patients with their recovery however when they are not administered appropriately the consequences can be devastating.

“The NHS must now look at what action can be taken to increase training and resource to ensure the complication rate associated with IV drips is dramatically reduced to protect patients from unnecessary suffering.”
Lisa Jordan, Partner