The term ‘never events’ is so dramatic, so final, that it sounds hypothetical – apocryphal, even – but Never Events really do occur in our hospitals, and with alarming frequency. The term is used as a label by the NHS to describe entirely preventable serious incidents whose occurrence potentially, or actually, jeopardises patient safety.
Not all Never Events result in serious patient harm or death; to be considered a Never Event, a situation must merely have the potential to cause such a devastating impact. However, I have often wondered which is most worrying: the fact that Never Events happen in the first place, or that they happen frequently enough to merit not only an official title but also the annual publication of NHS Never Event statistics.
The list of incidents categorised as Never Events includes surgery performed on the wrong patient or on the wrong part on the right patient, a foreign object such as a swab or surgical instrument left behind in a patient after an invasive procedure and, perhaps even more worryingly, incidences of medicinal overdose resulting from an error in reading unit abbreviations on a prescription or the use of an inappropriate measuring instrument – the wrong syringe, for example.
According to the published statistics, in the year to the end of March 2016 a total of 442 Never Events occurred in hospitals throughout the UK. To put this in context, it is estimated the NHS deals with more than a million patients every 36 hours but nevertheless it remains a concern that the figures show an annual increase in reported Never Events. While the NHS itself recognises each and every Never Event as a red flag highlighting serious safety concerns, in practice this laudable determination to learn from previous mistakes does not seem to be working.
The NHS is to be applauded for its openness and transparency and it is equally clear that every day the overwhelming majority of our health practitioners genuinely strive to ensure Never Events never occur. However, it is vital that we as patients remain vigilant in matters of our own healthcare and, if in doubt, question the professionals – lest we too become yet another Never Event statistic.
If you or a loved one has experienced the consequences of a Never Event, George Ide’s clinical negligence experts are on your side. Contact us on 01243 876668 or email the team directly at email@example.com
James Hawke. Solicitor and Head of Clinical Negligence
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