Litany of surgical blunders revealed in Britain

The cases of 14 British brain surgery patients who were the victims of catastrophic errors when National Health Service (NHS) neurosurgeons operated on the wrong side of the head are to spearhead a government drive to make operations safer, says the Independent.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England, will highlight the cases at the launch of his annual report today when he will announce the establishment of a new clinical board for surgical safety to reduce errors and eliminate "wrong site" mistakes.


  • In 2007, almost 130,000 errors involving surgical procedures were reported to the National Patient Safety Agency.
  • In 2007, 16 operations were done on the wrong site; examples include knee replacements on the wrong (healthy) knee, cochlear implants in the wrong ear and removing bone from the wrong foot.
  • One patient a day was listed for the wrong operation in 2007, and there were 1,136 errors involving operating lists, including mistaken surgery, wrongly identified patients or operations performed in the wrong place.
  • A study of 38 surgeons in 14 NHS hospitals in the British Medical Journal in 2006 found "most" had experience of operating on the wrong site.

  • About 20,000 patients die after surgery each year in the United Kingdom but it is not known how many were preventable.
  • An estimated 2,000 NHS patients die each year as a result of errors in treatment, and half of all incidents could have been avoided if staff had learnt the lessons of previous errors.

    Source: Jeremy Laurance, Litany of Surgical Blunders Revealed, The Independent (London), July 14, 2008.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 22 July 2008
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