Safety lapses that result in almost 34,000 deaths a year in hospitals are not being addressed by the NHS according to the Healthcare Commission which inspects the NHS. The independent health watchdog alleges that patient safety and medical errors are a low priority for the NHS.
Although the exact number of deaths caused by poor safety standards is not known completely previous studies have estimated it is up to 34,000 a year. Statistics have shown that a tenth of patients suffer a safety lapse in hospital while around nine per cent suffer an infection there.
In spite of these figures half of NHS trusts appears not to have taken any action to ensure the problem does not happen again, according to new data from the Commission.
The Commission blames "inconsistent" standards nationwide for high levels of infections, medication blunders and clinical negligence in its annual State of Healthcare report that was published today. In addition they have noted a lack of dignity and respect for elderly people in these hospitals This problem is not only widespread in just the NHS but in private hospitals as well.
The report stated that at least one in 10 NHS trusts could not confirm they were meeting minimum standards on safety. One in 10 independent providers have also been asked to improve their safety standards. 11 per cent of the trusts could not assure the commission that systems were in place to reduce the risk of these infections.
Chairman Professor Sir Ian Kennedy said "The NHS needs to take safety more seriously. It is frustrating that in 2006 we do not have a clearer idea of how many people die or are harmed in hospitals when this could have been avoided.
"We should all be troubled when the National Audit Office states that estimates of death as a result of patient safety incidents range from 840 to 34,000, but in reality the NHS simply does not know.
"I recognize that it is not easy to get this information and that all major countries struggle with it. But without that knowledge, and the reasons behind it, improvement cannot take place.
"There is clearly room for improvement in compliance with standards on safety. And this goes for the independent sector, which needs to raise its game on this as well as the NHS."
According to Sir Ian safety in GP care also needed to improve, with some doctors not keeping records properly, misreading tests and failing to check patients' use of medication.
The report pointed out that between one in 10 patients can expect to experience a "patient safety incident" during a stay in hospital - anything from records going astray to suffering a fatal accident.
The report states: "It has been estimated that infections associated with care in hospitals affect nine per cent of patients in NHS hospitals each year. They cost the NHS approximately Ģ1 billion and contribute to the deaths of approximately 5,000 patients."
Staff reported their concerns about inadequate systems that were in place for reporting incidents, with half of them saying that their trusts do not take action to prevent recurrence of errors, near misses or incidents. Patient safety problems were not addressed fairly according to some two-thirds of staff with one in 10 saying there was a "blame culture".
The report said that meals were taken away from patients before they are finished, and it noted a a "lack of sensitivity to the needs of older people from black and minority ethnic groups". It said, "Often these complaints are about a lack of compassion and attention from staff, such as leaving patients in obvious discomfort and not giving them enough privacy."
Jo Webber, deputy director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: "More than one million people are treated by the NHS every 36 hours and for the vast majority their treatment goes smoothly, as the Healthcare Commission acknowledge in their report.
"But, if a patient has suffered adverse effects as a result of their treatment, it is vital that their well-being comes first. And to ensure that the NHS learns from mistakes in order to prevent them from happening again, it is also vital that incidents are reported in a consistent and timely manner."
A spokesman for The National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) said: "Patient safety should be at the heart of patient care and the NPSA is working with the NHS to achieve this on a number of levels.