Health: Accidents in hospital cost pounds 150m a year

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More than a million accidents a year could be happening in English hospitals, a Commons committee warned last night. Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, examines a scathing audit of safety on the wards.

"Hospitals are dangerous places," David Davis, Conservative chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said last night.

"There are dangers for staff, for patients and for visitors. The simple fact is that the levels of accidents are too high. Health and safety legislation is there to protect people, but it is being blatantly ignored."

Evidence given to the MPs showed that patients in the Royal Liverpool Hospital were nine times more likely to have an accident than patients in the South Manchester University Teaching Hospital.

When hospitals were asked to report on the action they had taken to cure the problem, the Carlisle Hospitals NHS Trust said, among other things, that it had "amended cleaning procedures to prevent high level of slips in corridors". Trafford Healthcare Trust said it was "pursuing access to advice on health and safety from a competent person".

The accident-prone Royal Liverpool University Hospitals said, among other action taken, that a "risk and claims manager post [had been] established".

The MPs' report said: "We consider it essential that hospitals should be made safer places to be treated in, to work in, and to visit."

But they warned: "On the basis of an accident recording exercise in 30 trusts, the National Audit Office estimated that there were likely to have been some 450,000 accidents during 1995 in NHS acute hospital trusts in England.

"Allowing for under-recording, there may have been in excess of one million accidents. The costs of accidents were likely to have been at least pounds 154 million a year." That money would have been better spent on patient treatment, the MPs said.

But the criticism did not end there. "Although the NHS Executive issued guidance on incident recording systems in 1993," the report said, "17 of the 30 trusts visited by the National Audit Office did not have systems which met the requirements of a good system.

"The Health and Safety Executive estimated that the health sector reports, on average, only 37 per cent of the accidents they are legally required to report." That low level of reporting was condemned by the MPs as "highly unsatisfactory".

It was also reported by the MPs that 15 per cent of all staff accidents recorded in surveyed hospitals involved lifting patients and equipment.

Perhaps in response to that, the West Lancashire Healthcare Trust told the MPs: "Training in manual handling has now been incorporated into the induction course."

1 Health and Safety in NHS Acute Hospital Trusts in England. Public Accounts Committee, second report. Commons paper 350, session 1997-98. Stationery Office; pounds 8.80.