The BBC is reporting today that some 750 ‘never incidents’ – incidents that the Dept of Health says ‘should never happen’ – occurred in 2012/13. These incidents include such things as clamps or gauze left inside a patient after an operation, or operations being carried out on the wrong body part.
Radio 4’s feature on the statistics included an interview from a woman whose mother died after a feeding tube went into her lung rather than her stomach, which is a terrible tragedy for the family involved, but does this make the NHS a bad health service, or represent a serious problem on a ‘macro’ scale?
750 sounds like a lot. However, according to an NHS spokesperson, this total represents 4 out of every 100,000 procedures – or 0.004%. You’re around 2.5 times more likely to be killed in a road accident on any given day than you are to suffer a ‘never incident’ if you have to be treated in hospital – and most of those incidents are not fatal or even permanently damaging.
It appears to be open season on the NHS at the moment. Of course, every practitioner in every hospital should always be working to improve systems and procedures to ensure that any untoward incidents are minimised. But by headlining a figure that seems large out of context (context is, after all, everything and statistics can easily mislead), the BBC is adding to the tidal wave of misrepresented information currently eroding public confidence, when the facts in context suggest that going into an NHS hospital for an operation is as near to completely safe as any medical intervention anywhere could be.
You see, calling them ‘never events’ is never going to mean that they never happen (so much for never say ‘never’!). They are things you never want to happen and should never just accept – but they’re always going to happen, because with the best will in the world, to err is still human. That they happen in 4/1000ths of a percent of the time means the NHS is bloody good, especially when you consider the chronic and increasing understaffing and overwork being inflicted on it by this government – and any headline or article even hinting otherwise should be dismissed for the disingenuous tosh it is.
If you watch NHS-related news coverage carefully, as I do, it’s almost impossible not to conclude that this is a co-ordinated effort. It’s not hard to work out why.