84,000 clinical errors in hospitals


ALMOST 84,000 clinical errors or adverse incidents affecting patients were recorded in Irish hospitals last year.

Although the majority related to slips and falls, thousands involved more serious medication and treatment errors, according to information gathered by the State Claims Agency.

These include:

  • Medication incidents (8,250), such as incorrect doses or the wrong medicine administered to patients.
  • Treatment incidents (5,559), some of which included incorrectly leaving surgical swabs or devices in patients’ bodies following operations.
  • Wrong records or documents (5,650 cases), which led to “near misses” or, in rare cases, catastrophic incidents.

Despite the overall number of adverse incidents, they resulted in just 510 claims being taken by patients against health professionals last year.

These cases cost the State Claims Agency – which deals with hospital-related claims under its clinical indemnity scheme – just under €50 million last year.

The average cost of an award was €63,000.

A conference on medical negligence yesterday heard that the real scale of the problem could be much greater.

Based on international figures, Jim Reilly of Patient Focus said as many as 8,000 patients may die each year in Ireland each year as a result of preventable clinical errors.

But he said the scale of the problem was not being acknowledged by health professionals.

“A major culture change is required within the Irish healthcare system to ensure patient safety is to the fore in everyone’s mind,” Mr Reilly said.

“There needs to be more open communication with patients and their families, and the leaders in Irish healthcare should foster a culture of patient safety.”

In addition, medical negligence lawyers said that while health authorities were talking about being more open about mistakes, there was still major resistance on the ground.

Michael Boylan, a solicitor with Augustus Cullen Law, said: “The very laudable principles set out in various reports and ethical guidelines bear no relationship to how the cases are actually defended by hospitals and the State Claims Agency.”

The conference, organised by the UK-based Action Against Medical Accidents charity, heard calls for a mandatory duty on the part of health workers to report adverse incidents.

This “duty of candour” was supported by Willie and Kay Dunne, who were involved in a landmark negligence case against the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin during the 1980s.