More than 5,700 patients have died or suffered serious harm as a result of NHS errors over the past six months, analysis by the National Patient Safety Agency has shown.

The figures represent a 12% increase on the previous six months, but the agency said that better reporting lies behind the sharp rise.

The Organisational Patient Safety Incidents Reports summarise incidents reported by frontline NHS staff that occurred between October 2008 and March 2009.

The NPSA said these show that 92.5% of all patient safety incidents result in low or no harm to the patient, 6.2% of incidents cause moderate harm, 0.8% severe harm and 0.4% contribute to the death of a patient.

The agency said that 98% of trusts across England provided incident reports – a 3% increase compared to the previous period. There has also been a 7% increase in the overall number of incidents reported.

Chief executive Martin Fletcher said: “National reporting and learning means that the lessons learnt from safety problems are not trapped within the walls of one facility, but can be spread across the NHS to prevent similar events occurring.

“More reports do not mean more risks to patients. Indeed quite the reverse. These data are sound evidence of an improving reporting culture across the NHS. Frontline staff are more likely than ever to raise safety concerns much more openly.

The reports have been designed to be used by NHS boards to compare their reporting profile with similar NHS organistaions and to set action plans.

Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, said that although the figures show that most of the incidents reported resulted in little or no harm, there is still more work to do.

Sir Bruce said: “We have learnt from industries such as aviation that scrupulous reporting and analysis of safety related incidents, particularly ‘near misses’, provides an opportunity to reduce the risk of future incidents.”

Director of the Patients Association, Katherine Murphy, said: “We welcome an increase in reporting – we can’t truly face up to the patient safety challenge until we know what the real burden of harm is.

“I hope those organisations still lagging behind in reporting will address the issue with vigour. The high reporting organisations are proof that there really is no excuse.”

Last month, the NPSA reported that the incidence of reported drug errors leading to avoidable deaths and patient harm had also increased.

Link: National Patient Safety Agency