Deaths of 4,600 NHS patients linked to safety incidents

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Labour says figures show how underfunding and staffing pressures jeopardise patient safety

This is an edited version of an article first published by The Guardian.

Data shows that safety incidents at hospital, mental health and ambulance trusts were linked to more than 4,600 patient deaths in the last year.

The types of patient safety issues recorded by the National Reporting & Learning System (NRLS), which compiles NHS data, include problems with medication, the type of care given, staffing and infection control.

In total 4,668 deaths were linked to patient safety incidents, of which 530 deaths specifically linked to mental health trusts and 73 to ambulance trusts.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “These figures are heart-breaking and our thoughts are with the families who have lost a loved one in these circumstances.” He blamed “years of Tory cutbacks” for understaffing and for increasing pressures putting patients at risk.

Guidance accompanying the data from the NRLS, which was set up in 2003, states deaths are not always ‘clear-cut’ and cannot always be attributed to patient safety incidents. However, under the ‘degree of harm’ section recorded on the system, there were 4,688 cases listed as death.

In total, 4,356,277 reports of patient safety incidents were reported between November 2018 and October 2019. They are described as issues where unintended or unexpected incidents which could have – or did – lead to harm of a patient under the care of the NHS.

Other safety incidents had links to consent, paperwork, facilities, and in some cases patient abuse by staff or a third party.

Labour, which shared the figures, said patient safety should be front and centre of the NHS and that it would legislate for appropriate staffing levels to improve patient safety.

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