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July 18th 2017

Medical Negligence

Poor Care Leading to ‘Shocking’ Death Rate in NHS Hospitals

Chris Moore

Chris Moore

Senior Solicitor and Joint Head of Clinical Negligence

Poor Care Leading to ‘Shocking’ Death Rate in NHS Hospitals

Sick patients in NHS hospitals are dying ‘unnecessarily’ according to a new inquiry, with poor care and lack of equipment attributing to a worsening death rate. Patients who need emergency help for breathing problems are most at risk, with one-third of inpatients dying due to ‘major flaws’ in the treatment they receive. The death rate for people with breathing difficulties is already high by international standards, and is getting worse.

Sick patients in NHS hospitals are dying ‘unnecessarily’ according to a new inquiry, with poor care and lack of equipment attributing to a worsening death rate.

Patients who need emergency help for breathing problems are most at risk, with one-third of inpatients dying due to ‘major flaws’ in the treatment they receive. The death rate for people with breathing difficulties is already high by international standards, and is getting worse.

The findings come as part of the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death study, which analyses patient outcomes across all NHS services. Investigators charged with publishing the NCEPOD report described the findings as ‘shocking’, blaming the sharp rise in deaths on mismanagement, delayed diagnosis and inadequate equipment across the health service.

Between February and March this year NCEPOD investigators examined 353 patients with serious breathing difficulties, and found that the vast majority received substandard treatment. Many of the patients assessed suffered from pneumonia, pulmonary disease or similar conditions which meant they couldn’t breathe unaided. In some cases, hospital staff failed to administer non-invasive intervention (NIV) through an oxygen mask, resulting in unnecessary death and suffering.

Shockingly, patients received poor care and inadequate monitoring of symptoms in four out of five cases. Treatment was often delayed due to a lack of equipment, and the failure of medical staff to recognise when NIV was needed. Doctors involved in carrying out the NCEPOD assessment were appalled by the findings, stating that their hard-hitting conclusions were justified.

In an emergency, NIV treatment administered in hospital is supposed to reduce the risk of death from 20% to 10%. However, the NCEPOD study revealed that the average death rate in the UK is closer to 35% — significantly higher than expected. By contrast, the death rate in Spain is 18% and 10% in France. According to historic NCEPOD data, the UK death rate has been rising since 2011, when it first reached a high of 30%.

Are Spending Cuts to Blame for High Death Rate in NHS Hospitals?

The NHS has faced crippling spending cuts in recent years, with resources severely impacted across all services. The NCEPOD report found that two out of five hospitals have been unable to cope with inpatients that need NIV help with breathing problems due to a lack of equipment, including basic ventilators which cost anywhere from £1,000 to £2,000.

The report also revealed that a shortage of nursing staff is partly to blame for rising death rates. Staff shortages were reported in one-half of all hospitals assessed by the NCEPOD, meaning that a vast majority are failing to offer the proposed staffing ratio of one nurse to two NIV patients — putting lives at risk.

While it’s clear the NHS spending crisis is partly to blame for the rising death rate, it’s troubling that many deaths could have been prevented by a timely and accurate diagnosis, and the administering of appropriate treatment and care.

Mismanagement, delayed diagnosis and poor treatment of NIV patients are inexcusable, and more must be done to improve services in NHS hospitals. It’s scandalous that the current UK death rate for NIV inpatients is nearly double that of other European nations — highlighting the gross failings of our health service.

Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of serious health conditions can have a life-changing impact. If you or someone you know has been affected by medical negligence, visit our hospital complaints page to find out we could help.

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