Welsh patients' 'unnecessary risk' from missed safety alert

The NHS in Wales is putting people at risk by not implementing vital safety alerts, according to a leading patients' safety charity.

According to research by the charity Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA), all seven Welsh boards are missing deadlines.

The charity says patients were being put at "unnecessary risk".

In response, the Welsh government said it is setting up a unit to handle patient safety.

Alerts are issued when things go wrong repeatedly in the NHS causing concern.

A AvMA report out on Friday will claim that no Welsh health board has complied with all alerts whose deadline for completion has passed.

These include procedures to minimise the risks involved in blood transfusion, reducing deaths from incorrect doses of medication and providing essential care if a patient suffers a fall in hospital.

In north Wales, Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board had only finished implementing just over half (51%) of the alerts, the charity found.

Health boards covering Cardiff and the Vale and Cwm Taf were several years overdue on the use of patient wrist-bands.

'Unnecessary risk'

Abertawe and Bro Morgannwg Health Board had shown "a dramatic improvement" in performance, implementing 77% of alerts compared to 44% last year.

The charity found that Powys Health Board's performance had deteriorated falling from 89% compliance in 2011 to 79% this year.

Overall, there were 140 instances of an alert's recommendations not having been fully complied with in the NHS in Wales compared with 170 last year.

For example, only two Welsh health boards have completed implementing procedures designed to improve safety while injecting medicines even though the alert was first issued in March 2007.

While acknowledging some recent improvement, AvMA chief executive Peter Walsh said the overall picture in Wales was "very disappointing and worrying" and put patients "at unnecessary risk".

"The implementation of these reports can literally mean a matter of life and death for patients," he said.

"I'd really hate to be the chief executive of a health board who has to explain to a family who've lost someone because these alerts haven't been implemented on time that they've had their priorities elsewhere."

He also accused the NHS in Wales of "taking its eye off the ball" on patient safety and ignoring a wake-up call after concerns were raised last year.

'Safety performance'

"Its very disappointing and surprising that there hasn't been a more dramatic improvement... with the right dedication a real inroad can be achieved - and in fact that's what's happened in England.

"Health boards should put the safety of patients above all else... they really need to give this top priority."

The Welsh government requires health organisations "to act upon safety notices alerts and other such communications" under its Standards for Health Service in Wales 2010, but AvMA's report says procedures should be tightened up.

Consultant paediatrician Dewi Evans said the report shows a "disturbing picture".

"Its worrying enough to be in hospital in the first place without discovering that the basic fundamentals which protect your safety are not in place in many of our hospitals."

Medical negligence lawyer Mari Rosser said more oversight is needed of the safety performance and that non-compliance could leave health boards open to potential legal challenges.


Helen Birtwhistle, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said: "The NHS in Wales takes patient safety very seriously. Huge strides have been made through the work of 1000 Lives Plus, a national programme focused on improving the safety and quality of healthcare in Wales.

"There is still much work to be done, but where progress needs to be made, health boards will continue to work hard to make sure the necessary changes are made."

The AvMa report is based on date by the Welsh government in response to a Freedom of Information.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said they welcomed any scrutiny into patient safety which they take very seriously.

"England has taken the decision close the NPSA (National Patient Safety Agency) and as a consequence the Welsh government is establishing its own dedicated patient safety function within a new delivery unit.

"This unit will be accountable to Welsh government and be responsible for monitoring NHS performance on all aspects of quality and safety and will respond to areas of concerns."

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