Thursday, August 06, 2009

Scottish Liberal Democrats highlight botched operations

Ok, if you're about to have an operation in a Scottish hospital, please don't panic. The chances are that the medical team operating on you are going to do their jobs with excellent professionalism and skill.

However, the Scottish Liberal Democrat Health Spokesman Ross Finnie has obtained figures that give cause for some concern. He is worried that patient safety is being compromised in some cases as Health Boards are pressured to meet targets on things like waiting times.

The figures released in a Parliamentary answer show that in the last 5 years, 3106 people have suffered some sort of organ damage through cuts being made in the wrong place, for example, out of a total of 5514 surgical errors such as leaving swabs inside a wound.

The first thing I asked myself when I saw this was "how many operations took place in Scotland during this period." Fortunately I didn't have to look very far, because the Scotsman had done it for me - 1.2 million operations took place during 2008. If you multiply that by five, that gives 6 million. On these figures, the risk of surgical error is tiny - 0.0919% of an error happening, 0.05% chance of organ damage.

So, while there's no reason for panic, the fact that over 5000 operations have resulted in some kind of error is a cause for concern. It's important that every instance is properly investigated and action taken to prevent these mistakes happening in the future. It's also important to work out whether these errors are being caused by too much pressure being put on staff and if so, then, I'm sorry, but patient safety has to come first.

It does seem to be that the chance of error is highest in the busiest places - Edinburgh, Glasgow and Fife being the top three. I wonder if there's some relevance in that the first two especially carry out some of the most demanding, specialist procedures which are riskier anyway. I'd like to see some more detailed figures, broken down further to see whether it's the routine operations for conditions where there are long waiting lists, or the specialist surgery that have the most chance of ending in an error. There's no excuse either way, but knowing that will help find a solution.

Our NHS is excellent and deserves its good reputation, but we can't let things like this pass without taking action.

All credit to Ross Finnie and his team for their work on this. Let's hope that the SNP Government takes notice.

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