Tracking down the exact prevalence of medical errors is a difficult task as many incidents go unreported. However, what estimates are available describe a disturbing picture.
Up to 98,000 patients in the US die each year as a result of a medical mistake made in hospital. Indeed, medical errors sit easily among the top 10 leading causes of death among Americans, according to a report by the US Institute of Medicine (To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System, 1999).
The situation here in the UK is not much better. An investigation by Britain's Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, revealed that 10 per cent of hospital inpatient admissions resulted in some kind of adverse event (Making Amends, July 2003). Furthermore, 5 per cent of the general population reports suffering some sort of injury or other ill-effects because of medical care - and almost a third of those claim that the event had a permanent negative impact on their health.