80 die in hospital blunders as doctors warn departments are unsafe

Scores of patients in Scottish hospitals died as a result of medical blunders last year, as doctors warn most departments are no longer staffed to a safe level.

Official reports released by health boards show at least 442 incidents were recorded between 2022 and 2023 that met the threshold for Duty of Candour, with 80 resulting in the death of a patient.

Duty of Candour is a legal responsibility which sets out when organisations should tell those affected after an unintended or unexpected incident causes harm or death.

Figures released this week showed Scottish health boards have paid out more than £60 million in legal claims since 2018, with nearly 2,500 claims being brought.

Major hospital botches revealed

Stark details of some of the blunders last year include patients dying after being given incorrect high doses of medication and an individual who developed blood clots in both lungs after doctors failed to prescribe preventative drugs.

One dialysis patient became acutely unwell after swabs showing he had contracted a serious infection were ignored for six days.

In another incident, a referral for a kidney issue and ultrasound on a baby was missed.

Frail patients were repeatedly put at risk, including one who had to be readmitted days after being sent to a care home with no treatment plan for her multiple sores, and another who suffered a fracture after the wheels of a shower chair were not locked.

Scores of patients in Scottish hospitals died as a result of medical blunders last year. Image: DC Thomson

Reports submitted by health boards across Scotland repeatedly reference workforce issues such as staffing problems, workload, and busy environments with no quiet areas with both IT access and a phone.

Dr Iain Kennedy, chair of BMA Scotland, said it is beyond doubt that Scotland’s NHS is “under severe pressure, with healthcare workers struggling to cope with demand and to deliver the best possible care they can”.

He said: “Our snap survey at the end of last year revealed just 1% of doctors said they felt their department was well-staffed at a safe level.

Dr Iain Kennedy.

“In those circumstances, it is little surprise that care won’t always match the levels that patients need and deserve.

“It is important that these reports are used to learn lessons and make improvements where possible – in particular around the impact of understaffing and under resourcing.”

Incidents by health board

In NHS Ayrshire and Arran alone there was a staggering 187 incidents last year, with 10 leading to the death of a patient.

The majority of these – a total of 136 – related to incidents where the person experienced pain or psychological harm for at least 28 days.

There were 39 incidents and five deaths in the Borders, 11 incidents and nine deaths in Forth Valley, and 75 incidents and 23 deaths in Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

Meanwhile, Lanarkshire reported 33 incidents and 14 deaths, Lothian reported 41 incidents and 11 deaths, and NHS Tayside reported 20 incidents and seven deaths.

Busy hospital staff
A stock image of hospital staff. Image: Supplied

NHS Highland had 29 incidents but would not disclose the exact number of deaths, saying only that it was fewer than five.

NHS Shetland reported four incidents, while the Western Isles recorded two and Orkney just one.

The total number across Scotland is expected to be even higher with Duty of Candour reports for Fife and Grampian still to be published over the next few weeks.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway told us its report will be published online on Monday after being approved by its medical director and was delayed by an “oversight”.

The health board thanked us for drawing its attention to the absence but ignored our follow up questions about whether it had fulfilled its legal requirement to produce this and send it to the Scottish Government.

Extreme pressures

It is understood discussions have taken place between boards and the Scottish Government about the need for a standardised approach to producing Duty of Candour reports to ensure consistent reporting of incidents.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “These deeply concerning incidents have laid bare the extreme pressures that NHS staff are working under.

“It’s clear that scandal-struck Michael Matheson has taken his eye off the ball and patients are suffering as a result.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie. Image: PA.

“We need action now to support staff to ensure preventable incidents are reduced.”
Scottish Liberal Democrats leader and health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said:

“Whenever I speak with health staff these days, they say that things have never been so tough.

“These staff joined the NHS because they wanted to care for people and help to relieve pain but they are finding themselves pulled from pillar to post, barely able to spend any time with each patient.

“It’s more than two years since Humza Yousaf announced his plan for helping the NHS recover from the Covid pandemic and it has been an utter failure.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We continue to stand behind and support our vital frontline health services.

“NHS Scotland staffing is at record levels, and the Scottish Budget for next year proposes £13.2 billion for frontline NHS boards – an additional investment of more than half a billion pounds.

“We are committed to transparency, improving standards, and learning lessons when something goes wrong.”

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