The NHS describe them as “never events” because they are regarded as being so obvious or serious that this type of mistake should never happen.
It has recently been reported in the press that hundreds of hospital patients have suffered from these type of mistakes, for example, having surgical instruments left inside them and operations being carried out on the wrong body parts.
Over the past 4 years more than 750 patients at hospitals throughout England were affected according to figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests made by the BBC.
They included 322 cases of foreign objects left inside patients during operations; 214 cases of surgery on the wrong body parts; 73 cases of tubes, which are used for feeding patients or for medication, being inserted into patients’ lungs; and 58 cases of wrong implants or prosthesis being fitted.
One case widely reported in the media involved a former nurse who had been left with 7 inch forceps inside her for 3 months after she underwent keyhole surgery to remove her gall bladder at the Alexandra Hospital in Worcestershire during February 2009.
Following the surgery, she complained of “excruciating” pain and her doctors arranged for her to have an MRI scan – but the magnetic field from the scan caused the metal inside her body to move. The scan had to be stopped because she started screaming with pain. This blunder was eventually picked up by the hospital following an x-ray.
I am also involved in a “never event” case at the moment. During October 2011, one of my clients was doing some gardening at home when a thorn went into his right ring finger. He attended his local hospital in Cambridgeshire and it was eventually agreed that he should undergo surgery to remove this thorn as his finger was painful. During the operation the surgeon accidentally operated on his right middle finger (and not his right ring finger) by mistake.
On the surgeon realising his error he stopped and then proceeded to operate on the correct finger. Unfortunately, he has now been left with pain in his right middle finger which is impacting on his life.
There really isn’t any excuse for these type of mistakes which are all preventable by very simple precautions, for example, making sure that the limb which is being operated on is clearly marked before surgery, counting all the surgical instruments after an operation to make sure none are missing and checking that the consent forms signed by patients are properly completed.
As well as the avoidable pain and suffering these type of mistakes cause to patients, it also increases the number of indefensible compensation claims which are made against the NHS each year.