Hospital blunders 'result in almost 12,000 preventable deaths in hospitals every year': Junior doctors badly supervised, says study
60% of the preventable deaths occurred in elderly, frail patients

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UPDATED:

13:56 GMT, 14 July 2012

Nearly 12,000 patients die needlessly in hospital every year due to blunders by staff, researchers warn.

They say that doctors and nurses routinely misdiagnose illnesses, fail to treat patients quickly enough or give them the wrong dose of drug.

And many of the errors happen because junior doctors are not properly supervised by senior colleagues, say the academics.

The study was published after a coroner launched a scathing attack on medics who were supposed to be caring for Kane Gorny (pictured with his mother Rita Cronin). He died after he was not given vital medication to help him retain fluids

The study was published after a coroner launched a scathing attack on medics who were supposed to be caring for Kane Gorny (pictured with his mother Rita Cronin). He died after he was not given vital medication to help him retain fluids

They warn that the elderly are
particularly vulnerable as they often suffer from a number of
complicated health problems that can be difficult to diagnose and treat.

In the first study of its kind, researchers have estimated the proportion of hospital deaths that could have been prevented.

The team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
examined the circumstances leading up to 1,000 deaths in ten NHS
hospitals in 2009.

They calculated that 13 per cent of the deaths were avoidable, as they
were due to mistakes by hospital staff. If this figure were true for all
hospitals in the NHS, it would mean 11,859 preventable deaths are
occurring every year.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, calculated that 60
per cent of those who died were frail, elderly patients with a number of
complicated health problems.

Dr Helen Hogan, who led the study, said: ‘Some of the problems were
around junior doctors and their decisions on diagnosis and treatment not
being looked at by a consultant. For instance a patient with lots of
disease might not get assessed and then something is missed. They might
then be given a drug that interacts with kidney problems, for example,
and they suffer side-effects.’

Some of the problems were
around junior doctors and their decisions on diagnosis and treatment not
being looked at by a consultant… and then something is missed.

In one case, a man in his 60s suffering from heart failure was
misdiagnosed with bladder cancer. Doctors had apparently overlooked
medical notes stating he had a history of heart disease, and he
subsequently died.

In another example, a woman in her 80s died after staff took almost
three weeks to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome, despite the fact that
she had obvious symptoms and was known to have suffered from the illness
in the past. Dr Hogan said one way to avoid such deaths would be to
ensure sufficient numbers of consultants worked evenings and weekends.

Recently the Government announced that from next year, junior doctors
will shadow senior colleagues in their first week at hospital. This is
to try to reduce the effects of the so-called ‘killing season’, when
hospital deaths rise by as much as 8 per cent when juniors first start
their jobs.

The Department of Health said: ‘We know that data like this can help hospitals to improve services.’

The study comes after a coroner this week blamed ‘incompetent’ staff for
the death of a 22-year-old man from dehydration at a top teaching
hospital. Kane Gorny died at St George’s in South London after resorting
to dialling 999 because doctors and nurses were ignoring him.