Twice as many surgery patients die from medical negligence in UK as rest of Europe


New research has revealed that nearly four in 100 patients undergoing routine surgical procedures on the NHS in the UK die as a result of medical negligence.

Medical Negligence

The figures are twice the estimates for NHS patient deaths as a result of medical negligence – and are higher than medical negligence figures for EU countries like Estonia, Hungary and Finland.

The study by UK and German researchers examined deaths across 46,500 patients in 28 European countries.

The researchers found that NHS staff were failing to detect strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure and blood poisoning after routine surgical procedures, from hernias to bowel cancer ops. Brain surgery, heart ops and pregnancy-related procedures were not included.

Professor Andreas Hoeft – who is based at the University Hospital in Bonn – said that NHS nurses were finding patients “dead in their bed” the morning following surgery. He added that vulnerable patients such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions such as heart or kidney disease or other complications were more at risk and required better aftercare.

“Many of the patients get sepsis, or blood poisoning, overnight and often it is not detected,” he said. “The bad news is that mortality is higher than we thought, but hopefully there is room for improvement.”

A total of 3.6% of UK patients die within 60 days of an operation – higher than in countries like Sweden, Switzerland, Cyprus, Hungary and others. But the researchers say that more data is needed before it can be established whether NHS care is worse than that in other European countries.

Lead researcher Rupert Pearse from Queen Mary College, University of London, added that overall mortality needed to be reduced to one death in 100 patients, saying that many of the deaths were “preventable”.

Only 6% of patients were admitted to intensive care in the UK – a figure lower than in many other European countries. A shortage of intensive care beds may also be behind the increased post-surgery death rates in the UK.

The study was partly funded by the European Society of Anaesthesiology and the findings are published in The Lancet.

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