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NHS mistakes ‘waste £2.5bn’ a year – Hunt

A culture change is needed in the NHS to stop as much as £2.5bn a year being wasted on ‘basic’ mistakes in hospitals, health secretary Jeremy Hunt is to say. 

His comments come after a Department of Health (DH) commissioned report, conducted by Frontier Economics, revealed that the costs of preventable (adverse) events is likely to be costing the NHS more than £1bn per year, but could be up to £2.5bn annually. 

The report highlights that the cost is incurred through problems like medication errors, avoidable infections after surgery, and litigation. 

In a speech to staff at Birmingham Children’s Hospital today, Hunt is expected to say: “I want every director of every hospital trust to understand the impact this harm is having not just on their patients, but also on their finances. 

“And I want every nurse in the country to understand that if we work together to make the NHS the safest healthcare organisation in the world, we could potentially release resources for additional nurses, additional training, and additional time to care... nobody should be in any doubt that the path to lower cost is the same as the path to safer care.” 

But Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said “poor care is usually caused by a lack of investment”. 

He added that if there are not enough nurses on a ward to care for vulnerable patients, there will inevitably be more falls and more preventable conditions. 

“Though these proposals are well-intended, logic suggests that you need to invest in additional staff first, and then you will find that your short-term investment leads to longer-term savings,” said Dr Carter. “Every nurse’s first priority is patient safety, and they are well aware of the effects of poor care.” 

The four areas of poor patient safety highlighted by the DH are falls and trips; bed ulcers; urinary infections caused by poorly fitted catheters; and deep vein thrombosis. Together, these cost an estimated £200m a year in extra care. 

Labour health spokesman Jamie Reed MP stated that under David Cameron, thousands of nurses and frontline staff have been lost while £3bn has been wasted on a “reckless” NHS reorganisation, putting patient safety at risk. 

However, Anna Bradley, chair of patients’ watchdog Healthwatch England, said the principle behind the DH initiative is absolutely right – what is good for patients is ultimately often also cheaper for the system. 

“To make this work we need a compassionate and effective complaints system that addresses people’s concerns when things go wrong and works with them to improve services for the future,” she added. 

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