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Patient safety endangered by surgery targets

17th June 2010

Demands from pressure to meet targets could be jeopardising safety in operating theatres in UK hospitals.


A survey conducted by Bournemouth University among almost 550 surgeons has highlighted the risk.

About 20% of surgeons questioned reported being involved in incidents, during a two-week period, where patients were harmed and many complained of having to operate on patients they had not seen before, or a lack of time for complex operations.

While the NHS has been told to make patient safety a top priority, the findings indicate many surgeons are unhappy with the overall approach to safety.

The paper published in the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons estimates that the problems arose in about 3% of operations, a figure significantly higher than the figure cited by the National Patient Safety Agency but lower than those from other studies in North America.

Lead author Professor Colin Pritchard from the School of Health and Social Care at Bournemouth University says surgeons often come under pressure to "slip in" extra patients on their lists.

He said: “If anything goes wrong they're responsible but not in charge. The key is the influence - and often the malign influence - of managers who are concerned with meeting targets.”

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “Patient safety must come first, that means allowing clinicians to focus on the outcome of a patient's treatment, rather than the diktats of managers.

“That's why we will abolish Labour's top-down process targets and replace them with outcome measures, which drive improvements in the quality of patient care."


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