A new whitepaper from Proximie has laid bare the patient safety challenges that are affecting surgery in the NHS and has called for improved data collection to help tackle the challenges effectively.  

Patient safety in surgery – the urgent need for reform’ analyses national and international data relating to surgical procedures and records the opinions of 1,500 patients. It reveals a worrying picture of declining patient safety standards in NHS hospital surgical theatres.

According to its findings, the number of ‘Never Events’ – where an incident should never have been able to happen – has seen no improvement since 2015, with 407 incidents being recorded in the 12 months to March 2022.

In addition, the collected data shows a 30% increase in the number of safety incidents in surgery since 2015, and a 15% increase in patient safety incidents that resulted in death since 2015.

Bryn Davies, director of strategy at Proximie said: “We have a golden opportunity to improve patient safety in surgery in the UK. But to start to address some of the challenges set out in this report, we first need to appreciate the issues that currently exist and work together as a healthcare sector to identify opportunities to improve the safety of patients.

“Fundamental to achieving our collective ambition, is improving the quality of information that we collect. If we make in-depth data available to all surgical teams and healthcare leaders, this will allow us to better understand how incidents occur, learn from when things go well and plan strategies to improve patient care.”

Surgical care platform Proximie authored the report and compiled it in association with leading surgeons, patient advocates, economists and NHS leaders. It made a number of recommendations that could be taken to support medical professionals and to help drive safety standards forwards.

Its recommendations are:

  • Set the safety bar higher through the creation of new statutory policies that ensure surgical teams adhere to guidance.
  • Improve the standard of data available from the operating theatre to help healthcare leaders gain a better understanding of the drivers of poor patient safety so they can plan strategies for improvement.
  • Create a culture of continuous learning by giving surgeons of all levels access to procedure performance and operating room data.
  • Learn from when things go well to improve patient safety and prevent ‘Never Events’ by enhancing data collection.
  • Engage with patients to ensure their needs are reflected in policies and processes and facilitating shared decision makers.
  • Empower medical professionals of all levels to question and challenge decision making during surgical procedures, to improve the culture within the multi-disciplinary team.
  • Increase funding for innovation, empowering surgery teams to work at the top of their skillset powered by innovative technological solutions.

The report supports improved data collection to enhance accuracy and efficacy.

It calls for digital transformation in order to deliver the modern health service that is needed. It says that a digitised OR “would enable us to tackle many of the issues set out in this document.

“By recording all surgical procedures, we would have access to high-quality data and a reliable record of what happened, allowing surgeons of all levels to learn from procedures that have gone well and those that have not.

“On a national level, this would also allow us to understand safety in surgery at a much deeper level, develop strategies to tackle issues, and raise standards across the UK.”

The report also highlights the impact of patient safety issues to the UK economy. Using NHS data and the estimated cost of each incident, the report estimates that every safety incident costs the economy £98,000. With an average of 57,382 patient safety incidents leading to harm a year the total annual impact on the UK economy is £5.6bn.

Helen Hughes, chief executive of Patient Safety Learning, said: “While there are new initiatives and projects underway aimed at improving surgical safety, such as ongoing work to revise the National safety standards for invasive procedures (NatSIPPs), more needs to be done to ensure we are consistently learning from patient safety incidents in surgery and use insights from these events to prevent future harm.

“As well as taking a huge physical and emotional impact on those affected and their families, poor patient safety also comes at a significant financial cost and undermines trust in the healthcare system.”

Attendees at Rewired 2021 had the opportunity to hear from Dr Nadine Hachach-Haram, founder of Proximie and innovation lead at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, on the use of data-driven technology to disrupt medicine.