Productivity Commission report shows serious patient safety incidents remain a concern for many states

30 January 2018
A report on public hospitals has identified a welcome national decline in sentinel events that cause serious harm to patients, but rates of inpatient suicides, incidents involving retained instruments or other material after surgery and maternal deaths continued to raise serious patient safety concerns, according to Maurice Blackburn Lawyers.

The Productivity Commission has today released The Report on Government Services (Health) 2018 that looks at the provision of government provided health services, including public hospitals, for 2015-16.

Maurice Blackburn national head of Medical Negligence Kathryn Booth said that while declines in the number of sentinel events across many states was welcome, the rates of sentinel events in some states, including New South Wales in particular, continued to remain too high.

“Nationally today’s report shows that the number of sentinel events has dropped from 101 in 2014-15 to 82 in 2015-16, but these figures still reflect unacceptably high rates of inpatient suicides (28 in total nationally), with incidents reported across almost all states,” Ms Booth said.

“New South Wales, whilst seeing a decline overall in total incidents, continues to have the highest rates of sentinel events reported in the country, with 34 sentinel events in 2015-16, including nine inpatient suicide events, nine events involving retained instruments or other material after surgery and six maternal deaths.

“Victoria also showed a decline in sentinel events, reporting 16 events in 2015-16, while Queensland and South Australia saw an increase, reporting 15 and 11 sentinel events respectively. Western Australia again reported 5 sentinel events in 2015-16, consistent with their 2014-15 reporting.

“Unfortunately many of the incidents reported reflect the experiences of our clients, namely preventable events that have caused very serious and unexpected harm as a result of a hospital stay.

“While today’s report shows that there is still work to be done to address unacceptable rates of sentinel events, the transparency of the states in reporting such events is very welcome in helping to shine a spotlight on our public hospitals so that issues can be identified to improve the safety of services for patients.

“It is important to acknowledge also that the reported sentinel events released today relate only to public hospitals.

“Such scrutiny of our private hospital system is long overdue – we know from the clients we assist that sentinel events are not isolated to the public hospital system and that there are many serious incidents that also occur in the private hospital system.

“It is critical that there is greater reporting done across all hospitals to identify patient safety incidents and to ensure that action can be taken as a priority to address these risks,” she said.

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