Medical errors rank as third highest cause of death

Posted by Patricia Wakeford on


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It was both interesting and concerning to read an article by Chris Smyth in the Times (Wednesday 4th May); that one death in 10 is the result of a medical error. We all know that errors occur, but this is a startling figure. This figure relates to the US. However, the report states that such deaths are under recognised in other countries including the UK.

To reduce the number of deaths from medical error, the authors offered several recommendations, including that death certificates should detail if death occurred as a result of a medical error. This would allow researchers to analyse such data to identify patterns which could prevent such deaths going forward.

The analysis, which was published in the British Medical Journal, said that the science behind medical errors would improve if data was shared internationally and nationally “in the same way as clinicians share research and innovation about coronary artery disease, melanoma, and influenza”.

The Department of Health responded to the report saying "we want the NHS to be the safest health care system in the world and are committed to understanding more about avoidable mortality, which, as the study highlights, is a problem around the world".

I agree that medical error should be recorded on the death certificate. This is a next step after the duty of candour. However, some trusts are better than others and it may take time for all trusts to fully commit if this change is introduced.

More importantly the death rate from medical errors needs to be reduced. If international collaboration can help to do this; all countries should share information to help achieve such a goal.

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About the Author

Photograph of Patricia Wakeford

Patricia is a Senior Associate, in our Clinical Negligence team, and is also a qualified midwife with many years of experience working in the NHS.

Patricia Wakeford
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023 8085 7310

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