NHS staff’s fear of admitting mistakes ’causes 11,000 deaths a year’

NHS staff’s fear of admitting mistakes ’causes 11,000 deaths a year’

Health bosses say 11,000 NHS patients die every year ‘because staff are too afraid to admit mistakes’ in attack on ‘blame culture’

  • NHS Improvement said health workers need to feel able to speak openly 
  • A culture of individual blame must be replaced by a wider view of errors, it said 
  • Hospitals will be given dedicated staff so people can discuss risks without fear

Thousands of NHS patients are dying because medical staff are too afraid to admit their mistakes, according to a report.

More than 11,000 people are said to die each year as a result of doctors’ blunders, with the elderly worst affected.

And the health service isn’t learning, its leaders say, because of a blame culture among staff and a fear of losing their jobs. 

NHS Improvement will reveal a life-saving plan to give every hospital a dedicated expert whom staff can contact when something goes wrong – without fear of punishment.

NHS Improvement’s national director of patient safety, Dr Aidan Fowler, said: ‘We need to help NHS staff to speak up when they see things going wrong’

Health workers have been accused of having ‘closed ranks’ in which deadly errors are swept under the carpet, The Telegraph reported.

And NHS Improvement’s director of patient safety, Dr Aidan Fowler, urged them to instead develop a ‘just culture’ to be honest about failures and stop tragedies repeating.

Staff will receive updated training to take action if they see something which looks risky.

And all workers from consultants to cleaners will be taught how to respond in patient safety incidents.

Among the plan’s targets are the use of technology to reduce medication errors, preventing falls in hospital and improving surveillance on maternity wards.

It’s hoped the new safety strategy will save as many as 1,000 lives per year within five years.

It must also dispel the ‘mistaken’ myth that ‘safety is about individual effort’ and urge people to work openly together to protect patients.

‘The NHS has tough protections to deal with deliberate wrongdoing by staff, but in the vast majority of cases, it is either honest mistakes or problems with systems that are at fault,’ Dr Fowler told The Telegraph.

‘We need to help NHS staff to speak up when they see things going wrong.

‘This is crucial to improving patient safety over the next decade and will ensure that the right lessons are learned, and errors minimised.’

Past efforts to make these improvements have been unsuccessful because staff have been too afraid, managers said.

But it’s hoped introducing dedicated staff to avoid cover-ups will help workers raise their concerns with confidence.

The safety strategy aims to zoom out from blaming individuals when things go wrong and instead look at wider problems to stop the same thing happening again.

It said: ‘Too often in healthcare we have sought to blame individuals, and individuals have not felt safe to admit errors and learn from them or act to prevent recurrence.’

But the report is clear that new rules won’t be loophole for people who deliberately harm patients or are unfit to do their jobs to get away with it.


Never Events are errors made during hospital care which, the NHS says, are ‘serious, largely preventable patient safety incidents that should not occur’.

NHS Improvement records how many happen in English hospitals each year.

Last year a total of 496 Never Events were recorded, the most common of which was surgeons operating on the wrong part of the body.

This happened 207 times, and the most regular mistakes were removing the wrong tooth (42 times), putting anaesthetic in the wrong place (34 times) and removing the wrong piece of skin, such as a mole (20 times).

Other errors included leaving objects inside patients after procedures, which most often happened with a vaginal swab (40 times).

The wrong hip replacement was used 50 times and people had feeding tubes put into their windpipe 29 times.

The figures cover the period from April 1, 2018, to March 31, 2019. 

Source: NHS Improvement 

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