Under-reporting of serious incidents by NHS trusts

A total of 2,159 people died after serious lapses in care by hospitals, family doctors' surgeries, ambulance trusts, and in community and mental health care last year. A further 4,529 patients suffered severe harm because of avoidable mistakes, according to the National Patient Safety Agency.

This is the first time a Government health body has compiled a national audit of "adverse incidents and near misses" involving National Health Service patients and comes five years after the agency was set up following the Bristol heart babies scandal. More than 500,000 "patient safety" incidents were reported between March 2005 and April 2006, with most occurring in hospitals.

Despite the number of errors, an investigation by The Sunday Telegraph has also raised questions about NHS trusts' openness on such serious incidents. Many are now calling for a tightening of systems to enforce mandatory reporting.

The Telegraph claims that NHS trusts are failing to properly report "serious untoward incidents" (SUI) - one measure of breaches of patient safety - at their hospitals. Such incidents should be reported to local strategic health authority executives. But a series of requests by the Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act has uncovered how the culture of under-reporting remains.

Blunders by NHS kill thousands of patients each year (Sunday Telegraph, 27 August 2006)