What is a ‘Never Event’ and How Do I Claim Compensation?

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Updated 18/5/23

‘Never Events’ are medical incidents, such as surgical errors, classified by the NHS as situations that should never occur – and should’ve been completely preventable. They’re very rare, but can be extremely emotionally and physically devastating when they do happen. Compensation cannot reverse the impact of a Never Event, but if you’ve been affected by this, we could help you claim compensation for medical negligence.

If you’ve experienced a Never Event, it can have a tragic impact on yours and your family’s life – many people are understandably left wanting a valid explanation, an apology and compensation for what they’ve been through.

We’ve published a list of Never Events that have happened below – however, because Never Events are quite rare and specific, you may not see your specific situation here. In this case, it’s still worthwhile for you to get in touch with our specialist Medical Negligence team for a Free Case Assessment,  to see if making a claim for compensation is the right option for you.

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Examples of Never Events

The NHS publishes a list of Never Events that happen every year, and they have a framework in place to review how these events happened, and ensure measures are in place to stop them from happening again. Never Events can be extremely serious and even sadly fatal - here are some examples of Never Events that unfortunately do happen to people in the UK.

  • Surgical errors e.g. the wrong limb being operated on (wrong site surgery), the wrong implant/prosthesis being implemented on a person, and even foreign objects being left inside someone’s body after surgery;
  • Errors in medication e.g. being given the wrong medicine, overdosing, or administering medication through the wrong route;
  • Misplacement of nasogastric or orogastric tubes (which are inserted into the nose/mouth and used for feeding/administering medicine);
  • People falling from unrestricted windows, being trapped in equipment or being scalded by hot water.

We have years of experience helping people make successful claims for compensation against the NHS, private healthcare companies, GPs and hospitals.

How Common are Never Events?

While Never Events are rare, naturally the aim is for them not to happen at all. The NHS openly publish provisional reports so that they can investigate these incidents and work to improve processes. The NHS call these reports ‘provisional’ as the statistics are not confirmed fully, because many ‘Never Event’ incidents are still subject to investigation.

The latest provisional data from the NHS suggests that between 1 April 2022 and 31 January 2023, 325 incidents met the definition of a Never Event.

The causes of Never Events can vary from a failure to follow national guidance and safety recommendations, to poor communication, human error or even carelessness.

Whatever the reason, a Never Event will almost always be a breach of the duty of care owed to a patient by their doctor or surgeon. Where surgical errors occur, the consequences for the patient can be very serious, and will often result in a need for further surgery, along with a prolonged recovery period and a worse overall outcome.

For example, the ‘Never Event’ of a surgeon operating on the wrong leg should be avoided by:

  • Clinic appointments;
  • Pre-operative assessment;
  • Speaking to medical staff and the surgeon on the day of the surgery;
  • Marking up of the leg whilst the patient is waiting to go into theatre.

If, during the pre-operative assessment, the clinician accidentally writes ‘L leg’ instead of ‘R leg’ or if their handwriting isn’t clear, this could lead to surgery being carried out on the wrong leg, particularly if the surgeon doesn’t check the notes or speak with the patient on the day of the procedure.

As a result of this Never Event, the patient would need to have further surgery on the correct leg. However, the person may need to wait a while between surgeries in order to minimise risks associated with the anaesthetic and their mobility.

The patient would then have to endure a painful and prolonged recovery period for both legs, and as a result, they may incur a loss of earnings, and need to rely on family and friends for help with day-to-day tasks. This is where compensation can help, as our Medical Negligence lawyers would take these factors into consideration to secure the support you need.

Every time a Never Event occurs in the NHS, the Trust concerned is expected to carry out an internal investigation in order to identify the cause, and to take preventative action so that similar events don’t happen again in the future. Whilst this is a positive step, the fact that Never Events continue to occur is evidence that there is further room for improvement in our healthcare system, and in the meantime, patients are continuing to suffer from the devastating consequences.

How to Make a Claim for Compensation after a Never Event

Claiming compensation for a Never Event can help you achieve a sense of justice for the pain and suffering you’ve experienced. Making a claim can also help us flag these issues to the NHS, so they can aim to avoid these incidents happening to anyone else. Compensation can also account for:

  • Any loss of income if you took time off work;
  • Any travel or further prescription costs, which would’ve been otherwise unnecessary;
  • Loss of amenity (this is any impact the Never Event had on the quality your life, e.g. an inability to drive, exercise or perform day-to-day tasks);

Compensation can help you pay for any support or rehabilitation you need now or in the future, which can include private healthcare. It’s important to note that making a claim cannot guarantee you will receive an apology from those responsible, or that disciplinary action will be taken against a medical professional. However, as part of our Medical Negligence claims, we work with the NHS and other healthcare providers towards tackling issues like these and prevent them from happening to other people.

Some people are worried about directly ‘suing’ the NHS, as our healthcare system is already under financial and staffing pressures. However, the NHS and other healthcare providers have dedicated budgets set aside for Medical Negligence claims.

To claim compensation for a Never Event, you can get in touch with our dedicated Medical Negligence solicitors for a Free Claims Assessment today, or request a callback. We could offer you a claim on a No Win, No Fee basis, meaning you don’t pay any legal fees if we do not win your case.

To be eligible to make a Never Event claim:

  • You must have been injured as a result of the never event (you cannot make a compensation claim for a ‘near miss’);
  • A medical professional responsible for your care must have been at fault for this Never Event.

In most cases, the time limit for making a Never Event is 3 years from the date the incident happened (or you became aware that it happened). This can vary if you’re claiming on behalf of a child under 18, or on behalf of someone who may not have the capacity to make decisions themselves – for more information, get in touch with us today.

Our Medical Negligence team are here to provide their expert advice and help you get the justice and compensation you deserve.

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