NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fatal Medical Mistakes Under Socialized Medicine in Britain

December 20, 2001

Death tolls due to medical errors in British public hospitals were five times higher last year than they were in 1990, according to a new report by the Audit Commission, a government watchdog group.

Here are some highlights of the report:

  • Mistakes range from administering the wrong medicine or giving out the wrong dosage of the right drug to unknowingly prescribing a drug that caused a fatal reaction.
  • About 1,200 people died last year because of such mistakes.
  • In addition, the thousands of patients who survive medicine-related mistakes each year inevitably become sicker -- requiring more treatments that create an extra expense for the National Health Service.
  • An author of the report estimates that the health service probably spends the equivalent of $725 million a year rehabilitating people who experienced an adverse incident or errors - and that doesn't include the human cost to patients.

Medical experts report that notes on patients are often illegible, incomplete or missing altogether. Introducing computerized patient records and prescription systems could reduce many common errors. But government plans to introduce computerized prescriptions by 2005 probably won't meet that deadline, observers say.

A spokesman for a unit of the British Medical Association blamed the mistakes on hospital understaffing, and the increasing effectiveness - and therefore the toxicity -- of drug therapies.

Source: Sarah Lyall, "More Deaths In England Due to Error, Report Says," New York Times, December 20, 2001.


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