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Recent rise in never events - what is a never event and why should this be concerning?

View profile for Carla Duprey
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Shocking inspection results from a local private hospital

New information has revealed that there has been an increase in the amount of 'never events' in the UK. In particular, a record number of ‘foreign objects’ have been left inside patients’ bodies after they have had surgery.

NHS England states that, ‘never events are serious, largely preventable patient safety incidents that should not occur if healthcare providers have implemented existing national guidance or safety recommendations... even a single never event acts as a red flag that an organisation’s systems for implementing existing safety advice/alerts may not be robust’

As such, medical staff are required to report never events as serious incidents and to send them to the Care Quality Commission.

NHS England has an official list of things that are considered as never events and this includes: wrong site of surgery, wrong implant/prosthesis, retained foreign object after surgery, overdose of insulin, scalding of patients etc.

In relation to retained foreign objects, there are already strict procedures in place in hospitals to try and prevent this from happening. There are surgical checklists and processes to repeatedly count surgical tools and equipment. However, despite this, the recent data states that foreign objects were left inside a patient a total of 291 times in 2021/2022. The objects left behind were swabs and gauze most commonly, but wire cutters, scalpel blades and drill bits being left behind were also included in these figures.

An analysis by PA Media confirmed that 291 cases is the highest number of cases recorded in a year in more than 20 years of data. The data does not make it clear when the patient had their initial surgery or whether it was on the NHS or in a private hospital.

We are all aware of the pressures on the NHS at the current time, but there are specific safeguards already in place to prevent never events from occurring and, if these are followed, then these incidents should not occur. 

From my experience, I know that retained foreign objects can often go undiagnosed for a number of months following surgery and can potentially cause long term physical and psychological issues. If procedures are followed and crucial lessons are learned, then these issues are entirely avoidable.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury due to the negligence of a medical or health professional then we may be able to help you pursue a claim for compensation. Our leading team of experts are on hand to offer advice, so please get in touch with us on 0161 696 6165 or complete our online enquiry form and we will contact you directly.