A hospital is no place to be if you're sick, and new studies just released confirm this view. A review of practices in hospitals in the UK has found that 850,000 errors occur every year, resulting in 40,000 deaths, although the rate could be as high as 72,000 deaths a year.
This gloomy picture is just from those incidents that hospitals and staff admit to, and the situation could be many times worse. Overall, the figures suggest an error rate of 2.2 per cent, whereas other studies have reported rates from as high as 36 per cent. An Australian study, thought to be one of the most accurate and reliable yet produced, reported an error rate of 4.75 per cent, which, if so, would suggest that the situation in UK hospitals is twice as bad as that reported.
The study doesn't reveal how the patients got into hospital in the first place, but a What Doctors Don't Tell You report estimated that up to 1.1 million Britons are admitted every year following an adverse reaction to a drug or medical therapy, or from a prescribing error. So once medicine has got you into a hospital bed, it has a pretty good chance of finishing you off.
Not that the situation is any better in the USA. Around 195,000 patients die in an American hospital every year as the result of a medical error, one study has concluded.
The health insurance group Healthgrades Inc produced the new figures, which double those reported by the Institute of Medicine in 1999. It was based on a review of 45 per cent of hospital admissions from 2000 to 2002, and includes failures to rescue dying patients and deaths from infection of low-risk patients, neither of which were included in the Institute of Medicine's report.
In addition to the deaths, 1.14 million patients also suffered a 'safety incident', which represents one in four Medicare patients admitted from 2000 to 2002.