Uncovering hidden medical mistakes

When staff make medical mistakes the Trust or hospital concerned must tell an agency known as the NHS’s National Reporting and Learning System. However, it is thought that as many as one-fifth of all hospital trusts were under-recording mistakes, so where does this leave potential victims? >>

A recent survey sought to uncover mistakes that were never reported - such as the removal of wrong organs, swabs left inside patients or overdoses of drugs, some of which can have fatal consequences. 

It found that last year alone there were over 300 such events across the NHS including:

  • 123 patients who had swabs, scalpels or other objects left inside them following surgery
  • 89 cases where doctors operated on the wrong bit of the body
  • 49 patients given the wrong implant or prosthetic limb
  • 14 cases where feeding tubes were inserted into the lungs, rather than the stomach, which is life-threatening.

Many other cases may still be hidden. The potential extent of cover-ups within the NHS was highlighted in a report in 2012 into the Mid Staffordshire scandal, where hundreds died due to the poor care they had received.

Medical negligence: how do you get to the truth?

If you believe you or a loved one has been a victim of a medical mistake or ‘clinical negligence’ it is often not easy to establish the facts, interpret what you are told and even know where to look for evidence that might confirm your suspicions.

There is a formal complaints procedure for NHS patients, but even then, the most reliable and stress-free way to get at the truth is to speak to a specialist clinical negligence solicitor who knows their way around the medical world and has a network of experts in support.

Over the years we have heard or come across a vast range of avoidance or delaying tactics, have learnt where to find ‘missing’records and have fought many cases, often involving complex medical arguments and counter-arguments.

In common with most firms in our field we offer free initial consultations and different fee arrangements, but unlike many we offer a personal service from a named solicitor. This is especially vital in the generally more serious or even catastrophic cases we handle.

New Government guidelines for reporting medical mistakes

The new joint guidelines from the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council instruct medical staff immediately to report incidents of clinical error to managers.

The guidelines will call on the NHS to improve drastically its safety record and will order doctors and nurses to apologise to patients and families for medical mistakes and accept ‘personal responsibility’.  They must also explain to the patient how the error will be rectified.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ‘Transparency and honesty when things go wrong are powerful tools to improve patient safety, and part of the continued culture change we are determined to see in the NHS.

‘These new guidelines will complement the statutory duty of candour on organisations and help make the NHS safer than ever before.’

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC said: ‘Patients deserve a clear and honest explanation if something has gone wrong with their care.

‘This is why, for the first time, we are collaborating on this new joint guidance. It will ensure that doctors, nurses and midwives are working to a common standard and will know exactly what their responsibilities are. Doctors and nurses are being ordered to own up to their mistakes and to say sorry to patients and families.’

Let’s hope this results in a more open and constructive approach in relation to medical negligence cases.

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