A Report published by the Public Accounts Committee for Northern Ireland has highlighted that, while the vast majority of services provided by Health and Social Care Trusts in NI are of a very high quality, patients and service users can suffer largely preventable harm and suffering.
Speaking at the launch of the Report, the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Michaela Boyle, MLA, said:
"The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety told the Committee that, between July 2004 and March 2012, there were 2,084 serious adverse incidents reported in the health and social care service. Eight hundred and thirteen of these involved the death of a patient or service user, including 488 which related to suicides. While not all of the serious adverse incidents reported were as a direct result of the care these patients received, the overall figure is still shocking and suggests that the standards of care being delivered by health and social care bodies require continued scrutiny and improvement."
One of the issues raised in the Report is that some nurses, while fully aware of their professional responsibility to report incidents, still have some reluctance about raising patient safety issues. The Report notes that there is a strong link between learning from adverse incidents and an organisation's openness to discussing such incidents. The Report recommends that both the HSC and the Department should do more to embed a widespread culture of safety in which honest reporting is encouraged and in which genuine learning can take place.
The Report also shows that patients find the complaints and claims procedures so confusing and difficult to navigate that they have to seek legal remedies. An issue of great concern is the cost of settling health and social care negligence cases which, over the past five years, has cost the Department £116 million.
Ms Boyle concluded: "Despite the introduction of a number of safety policies and initiatives, there is no reliable evidence to show that people receiving health and social care are any safer today than they were a decade ago. The Department still cannot reliably track the progress of the health and social care services in improving safety for patients or in holding service providers accountable. This is a fundamental issue that the Department needs to address to increase public confidence in the service."