Thousands dying from hospital errors each year

Mistakes made by busy doctors and nurses cause around 2,000 yearly hospital deaths that could have been avoided, a new report concludes

Despite patient security being on the agenda for more than a decade, thousands of patients are dying because of errors at hospitals that could have been avoided, a report from national patient security association Dansk Selskab for Patiensikkerhed (DSP) concludes.

The head of DSP, Beth Lilja, said that if things were done differently, almost 2,000 deaths could be prevented each year.

"Unfortunately, [human error] is a big problem. We estimate that between 1,000 and 2,000 of the 30,000 deaths at hospitals could have been avoided," she told DR Nyheder.

Getting serious infections at hospitals
One of the problems is that many patients contract serious infections at the hospitals. Based on statistics from national laboratory Statens Serum Institut, the DSP report shows that for ten years, every tenth patient has gotten an infection while being hospitalised.

"It tells me that those of us who work in healthcare aren't good enough at improving when we need to," Lilja said.

Since 2004, hospitals have been required to report unintended consequences of their treatments to the national patients' rights agency Patientombuddet. Between 2004 and 2013, hospitals reported more than 280,000 incidents, most of which were bedsores, infections or side effects to medicine.

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Since thousands of these incidents could have been avoided, consultant Jørgen Hansen is disappointed that so many serious mistakes repeat themselves.

"After working with patient security for ten years, I find it a bit disappointing that there are areas in the healthcare system where we haven't come further," he told DR Nyheder. "We can't keep hurting thousands of patients when we actually know how to avoid it."

Council nurses are too busy
While the statistics of the report concern hospitals, DR Nyheder reported the number of errors made by homecare nurses in the local councils to be much higher with 98,000 reported incidents just last year. Around 1,500 of those were life-threatening errors.

One homecare nurse who had to report an error is Karen Lintrup of Herning Council, who forgot to give her diabetes patient a vital shot of insulin.

Lintrup said that nurses are too busy and each has too many tasks and time-consuming patients. In the long run, work pressure on the nurses is what is hurting the patients.

"Errors happen because everything has to go so damn fast," she told DR Nyheder, adding that her mistake luckily didn't have any consequences for the patient. "But it still happened and it leaves you with a horrible gut feeling."