Case Studies

Report finds “serious safety concerns for public health”

Surgical Errors

An Australian government report published January 2018 shows that the number of medical disasters in Australia is decreasing.

According to the Productivity Commission’s report on government health services, there were 82 sentinel events nationally in 2015-16. Sentinel events are a subset of adverse events that result in death or serious harm to a patient. The Australian sentinel events list was endorsed by Australian health ministers in 2002.

Blumers Lawyer Felix Blumer said that while the decrease in sentinel events is reassuring, it is still sobering how often these accidents are taking place in our hospitals.

“While it is comforting to know that these types of mistakes are decreasing, the fact is that mistakes still happen, and when they do it is important for patients to know their rights in these instances.”

Blumer also noted that the report does not include data on private hospitals.

Key Facts:

  • There were five reported procedures involving the wrong patient or body part
  • 28 patients died by suicide while in the hospital’s care
  • Nine maternal deaths associated with pregnancy or birth complications
  • Seven deaths from blood transfusions where the wrong blood type was used
  • There were 26 reported cases of surgical instruments left in patient’s bodies following surgery

Retained sponges and instruments (RSI) due to surgery are a recognised medical ‘never event’ and have catastrophic implications for patients, healthcare professionals and medical care providers.

“It’s a serious safety concern for public health” Blumer said about the 26 reported cases of RSI.

The incidence of RSI is substantially higher in operations performed on open cavities. Sponges are the most commonly retained item when compared with needles and instruments.

“Obviously if a surgical instrument is found in the body that patient is going to require a secondary surgery to remove the instrument. Along with the additional operation which poses a health risk in itself, patients experience a lot of angst and can lose trust in the health care system.” adds Blumer.

The existing strategy for RSI prevention is manual counting of sponges and instruments, undertaken by surgical personnel.