Higher NHS incident figures – better reporting or an increase in medical negligence?

The number of reported incidents that caused (or could have caused) harm to patients has risen by almost 9%, according to the latest official figures at the National Reporting and Learning System (NRLS). More than 725,000 incidents were reported between April and September last year. Incidents resulting in severe harm or death remain at just under 1%. Some commentators have suggested that the figures demonstrate that the NHS is facing up to its responsibilities and becoming more accurate in categorising such incidents and more honest about reporting them.


Looking beyond the figures

That may well be the case and we are the first to salute any moves that lead to improvements in patient safety. However, our experience with patients who have been injured has taught us to treat such pronouncements with cautious optimism. In fact, only recently, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt put a figure on the number of lives that could be saved if hospitals were more open about mistakes – an estimated 6,000 people over the next three years. That is 6,000 deaths too many. And, if they could be avoided simply by more honesty surrounding their circumstances, then that is extremely worrying. With a fifth of trusts reported this week as being rated poor at disclosing incidents, this is a key  issue of concern.


Duty of Candour

There are, undoubtedly, a number of significant steps that are being taken at the moment that will help the nation’s health system move towards greater transparency. The legal Duty of Candour, for instance – recommended by Robert Francis QC following the Mid Staffs Inquiry.


Under this, hospitals will be legally required to disclose information about any incident that causes moderate or significant harm and to make an apology. It will also apply to any health or social care provider, including those in the private sector and GPs. The Government has agreed and the draft regulations are now at the consultation stage.


Proposals welcomed but still need refinement

UK charity AvMA have welcomed the proposals with open arms, heralding it as one of the major breakthroughs in patient safety. However, they stress that there is still a need to pressure the Government to include specific measures in the regulations that are effective in:


  • promoting patient safety
  • protecting staff who ‘do the right thing’ by reporting failings and
  • ensuring that those involved in cover-ups are dealt with appropriately.


Sign up to Safety

This month (June) also sees the launch of Sign up to Safety – a campaign that invites NHS Authorities to commit to measures that will reduce avoidable harm, such as those caused through medication errors, blood clots and bed sores and to disseminating information in order to share learning. The campaign’s intentions are excellent but signing up is not mandatory and it is down to each Trust to decide whether or not to get involved.


NHS Change Day

There is welcome pressure from NHS staff too. The NHS Change Day movement, which began last year from a tweet, encourages staff to challenge the status quo with a focus on . This year’s ‘Day’ was on March 31st and 800,000 pledges were made by health professionals to do something that will make a difference to improve patient care. There will be a Change Day Celebration Event on July 4th 2014. Patients and the public can get involved here.


Remaining vigilant

These initiatives – and there are more too – are much needed if we are to make sure that patient safety stays on the agenda. Public pressure, coupled with the tightening up of legislation, can be very effective in bringing about real change. With that in mind, we look forward to the finalising and implementation of the Duty of Candour and remain vigilant as to how the measures it includes will help in protecting patients and improving care.

See here for recent articles on incident reporting in The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.


If you or a loved one have suffered because of medical accident or negligent treatment, whether in the NHS or in the private sector, please call us on freephone 0808 115 6189 or email us to see if we can help. A selection of case studies of successful claims can be found here.

Posted 25th June 2014 | Posted in News,Uncategorised