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Statement on OECD data on UK's level of surgical never events

04 Aug 2015

Some newspapers (3 August 2015) have reported on research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) detailing the reported level of never events in surgery in the UK compared with other countries. According to the papers, the research shows that hospitals in the UK have one of the highest reported levels in the industrialised world for leaving surgical items inside patients after surgery.

Any patient safety incident must be avoided but this data needs to be treated with caution. Recording of never events relies on hospitals and doctors to report incidents and the level of reporting will vary by country. In the UK there has been a drive towards greater reporting and transparency of patient safety incidents in recent years which may partly explain the study's finding. Other countries, which have done less to encourage reporting, may not be capturing as many incidents in their data.  The OECD have not examined the level of reporting by country.

The OECD also note that they have not compared the same categories of never events data for the UK as with other countries. This is because some parts of the UK are using an older data classification system. It is therefore possible additional ‘never events’ are included in the UK data but excluded from the data of other countries.

The figures have been extracted from the OECD’s Health Statistics 2015.


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