Labour says 4,600 NHS patient deaths linked to safety incidents over last year

9 December 2019, 05:46

Labour have said the figures demonstrate how underfunded the NHS is
Labour have said the figures demonstrate how underfunded the NHS is. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Labour has claimed more than 4,600 deaths between October 2018 and November 2019 can be linked to patient safety incidents in the NHS.

Using the patent safety data recorded by the NHS's National Reporting and Learning System the party's Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said figures showed 4,668 deaths were down to unintended or unexpected incidents which led to harm.

He added that the data illustrates how under-funding of the NHS, lack of investment and staffing pressures under the Conservatives have impacted on patient safety.

But, the Tories hit back and said the data showed only that deaths related to patient safety were being recorded, not that they were increasing.

Although guidance states that deaths cannot always be attributed to patient safety incidents, the level of harm recorded in the NRLS for 4,668 incidents during the yearly period was "death".

The guidance for submitting to the recording system adds that incidents should be recorded as death where "death is directly attributable to a patient safety incident".

According to the analysis, 530 deaths were linked to patient safety incidents in mental health trusts and 73 deaths were linked to incidents in ambulance trusts.

In total, 4,356,227 patient safety incidents were reported to the NRLS between November 2018 and October 2019.

Mr Ashworth has pledged that a Labour government would make NHS care safer for patients by putting patient safety "front and centre".

A Labour government would also legislate for safe staffing levels to improve patient safety, the party said.

Mr Ashworth said: "These figures are heartbreaking and our thoughts are with the families who have lost a loved one in these circumstances.

"Years of Tory cutbacks, under-staffing and failing to prepare for rising pressures puts patients seriously at risk.

"Patient safety must always be a priority which is why Labour will invest in the NHS properly and recruit the staff our health service needs."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock accused Labour of "vilifying" NHS workers by highlighting the death rate.

"This data shows that more patient safety incidents are being reported. They do not show there has been an increase in the actual number of incidents," said the Cabinet minister.

"We are proud of our record on patient safety - after the terrible record on patient safety under the last Labour government.

"This data is published specifically to encourage a culture of transparency and learning.

"It is therefore utterly irresponsible for Labour to try and play party politics with this data, vilifying the workforce and ultimately making it less likely that they will report incidents when they occur."

NHS England said it would not be commenting during the election period.

Health experts have warned a "crunch point" is being reached
Health experts have warned a "crunch point" is being reached. Picture: PA

Meanwhile, manifesto promises on the NHS are not "physically possible" because of a lack of people in training to fulfil them, a top doctor has warned.

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, also said patients in hospital should get used to seeing their doctors less as the health service reaches "crunch point".

Prof Goddard told The Independent that he was frustrated "by the proposed policies and promises" by Labour and the Tories, and their "relationship to reality and what actually is deliverable".

The East Midlands gastroenterologist also said all three major parties had failed to address the looming workforce crisis among NHS doctors.

In the interview, he said both main parties had used the NHS as a football and added: "It's really hard. In my life I have voted for all three main political parties.

"I currently have internal conflicts on which way I will vote, there is no easy choice.

"None of the parties has thought about the long-term problems facing us.

"The promises that have been made in the manifestos are not physically possible because we don't have enough people training to fulfil those promises.

"We need to think about where we want to be in 15 years' time and plan for it now."

The Labour Party's proposals to train 5,000 more GPs would mean fewer doctors training in psychiatry, or emergency medicine, Prof Goddard warned.

But the Tories' plan to have 6,000 more GPs by 2024 was not feasible without "flooding" the trainee system with overseas doctors, he added.

Currently, the NHS pays around £1.5 billion to train around 7,250 doctors a year, but Prof Goddard said this needed to double to about 15,000 a year, at a cost in excess of £3 billion.