Teesside health trusts report 18 deaths following patient safety lapses

Figures from NHS England show there were 16 deaths after patients were harmed in safety incidents at the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Eighteen deaths occurred at two Teesside hospital trusts in the past year following patient safety lapses.

Figures from NHS England show there were 16 deaths after patients were harmed in safety incidents at the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and two at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust.

Patient safety incidents, as defined by the NHS, are any unintended or unexpected incident which could have, or did, lead to harm for one or more patients receiving healthcare.

Examples include a failure to provide or monitor care, a breakdown in communication, an out-of-control infection in a hospital, insufficient staffing, or a missed diagnosis.

Between April 2021 and March this year there were 16,557 such incidents at the South Tees Trust, which operates James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, and Northallerton’s Friarage Hospital.

Thirty four of these resulted in "severe" harm.

While acknowledging the figures, the trust’s chief medical officer said it was not always possible to draw a direct link between any problems in care and cases of severe harm or death.

North Tees, which operates the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, and the University Hospital of Hartlepool, recorded 8,446 incidents that resulted in harm, of which 39 were in the severe category.

The trust said it had a “culture of openness and honesty” and actively encouraged staff to report any patient safety events that occurred. 

Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) the figures were a concern and he planned to take them up with Sue Page, the South Tees trust’s chief executive.

Mr McDonald, who previously praised James Cook staff after he himself underwent an emergency procedure at the hospital earlier this year, said: “Every person going into hospital rightly expects to receive the best treatment. 

“Patient safety is paramount and no family wants to see a loved one suffer. 

“NHS staff work under the most demanding of conditions, more so since the pandemic. 

“I will discuss these latest figures with the chief executive of the South Tees NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust at our next meeting.” 

Dr Mike Stewart, chief medical officer at the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We encourage an open and transparent culture and promote the reporting of all patient safety incidents, even when there is uncertainty over a direct link between any problems in care and incidents of severe harm or death.

“It is widely recognised that this national system is not the best way to accurately capture patient harm, which is why we welcome a new national patient safety framework which is being implemented over the next 12 months.”

Dr Stewart added: “When a patient dies their care is routinely reviewed to identify whether there were any problems or learning to help others. 

“Under the national learning from deaths framework we also grade incidents and their potential preventability. 

“In the last year there were no deaths graded as definitely preventable due to a problem in the care delivered by the trust.

“The delivery of safe patient care is the most important thing to our clinicians. 

“Each year we have more than 2.7m patient contacts across our services as one of the largest NHS organisations in our region.

“Colleagues are actively encouraged to report incidents so we can use the learning to improve patient safety and services in the future.

“While our reporting has increased consistently over the last three years, the number of serious incidents has not risen, which is strong evidence of a positive safety culture.”

Reacting to the data, Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham said: “Safety incidents, especially ones which can lead to severe harm or fatalities, are always cause for concern and it is vitally important that these are always reported as soon as possible.”

Lindsey Robertson, the chief nurse at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said: “North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust operates on a culture of openness and honesty. 

“We actively encourage staff to report any patient safety events which may occur.

“This has led to an increase in overall incident reporting, which allows us to examine every incident to learn as much as possible and make positive changes.

“We undertake reviews of the common trends within our reporting to support our continuous journey towards quality improvement, often working with our patients and families to develop our services.

“By focusing on a culture of learning and growth we can be assured that the foundations of driving quality improvement for our patients, which has always been at the very heart of our practices, is not only sustained but forward thinking. 

“The data we gather is regularly shared with the national learning and reporting system, which is in turn published by NHS England and used by the national patient safety team to influence national policies or strategy.

“This approach reflects that of the NHS patient safety strategy which advocates for continuous increasing incident reporting to support improvements nationwide.” 

Across all NHS Trusts in England there were 689,745 incidents resulting in harm to patients, the equivalent of 1,890 every day.

A total of 5,803 patients died.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...