With the government admitting that the NHS is under severe pressure and waiting lists having more than doubled over the last decade, what may have been an issue only understood by doctors and decisionmakers is firmly in the public eye.
One of the symptoms of the crisis affecting UK hospitals in the incidence of so-called ‘Never Events’. What are these events? What are the effects they are having on patients? And why are they happening more often?
What are ‘Never Events’?
‘Never Events’ is the term used by NHS England to describe serious incidents that “are serious, largely preventable patient safety incidents that should not occur if healthcare providers have implemented existing national guidance or safety recommendations.” They have the potential to cause serious patient harm or even death.
Despite all the measures hospitals and NHS leaders put in place to prevent these events, Hospital data shows alarming numbers of these events happening in recent years.
The NHS’ list of Never Events includes events such as surgery on the incorrect area of the body, foreign objects being left within the body after surgery, incorrect administration and selection of medicine, falls from improperly restricted windows on NHS property, transfusion of an incorrect blood type for the patient, and more.
The incidence of these events is relatively high. Between April 1st 2021 and March 31st 2022, 436 such incidents occurred. These included a record number of foreign objects being left inside patients – 291, compared to 138 in 2003/04.
What effect do Never Events have on patients?
Never Events can have a big effect on the patients that are unlucky enough to be affected. They can be physically and psychologically damaging, harming beyond the initial reason the patient was admitted to hospital, and extending their recovery.
Patients may understandably experience a loss of trust in their healthcare provider too, potentially resulting in them not visiting their GP or hospital if they experience symptoms. This can have a knock-on effect of increasing healthcare costs for the NHS over the long term.
The costs don’t stop there though. Because of the high likelihood of wrongdoing involved with Never Events, patients may take the healthcare provider to court in a hospital negligence claims case. These cases may end with the patient being awarded damages from the NHS to settle the claim and provide them with funds to help them adapt to their injury, recover using independent healthcare providers, or cover lost earnings.
The total cost of claims is gigantic. Claims payments from the NHS’s Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts (CNST) in 2020/21 were £2.2 billion in total, an increase of £152.8 million on the previous year.
Why are Never Events happening?
There are several reasons why Never Events are happening, but it primarily comes down to the fact the system is in a state of crisis. Reduced levels of funding, an aging population, poor pay, a lack of
social care to keep older people out of hospital, and flu and Covid epidemics are all leading to enormous backlogs in providing care.
With fewer resources available, what remains is being seriously stretched, meaning doctors are having to see more patients, work longer hours, and ultimately be put under increased pressure. More Never Events can be seen as a symptom of that pressure. And as of yet, government has not been able to provide a solution.