A poor state of health: NSW hospitals the worst in the country
ARI SHARP, smh
January 29, 2010
PUBLIC hospitals in NSW are the worst performing in the country when it comes to causing death and serious injuries to patients.
New Productivity Commission figures on ''sentinel events'' - severely harmful incidents that occur due to a failure of hospital systems - showed 59 cases in NSW, compared with 28 in Victoria, the next worst-performing state, and 147 nationwide.
Even accounting for NSW having the largest population and the largest number of hospital admissions, the figures still show the state performing worse than the rest of the country, with 40 per cent of sentinel events but only 30 per cent of public hospital admissions.
The figures, from 2007-08, represent a significant deterioration from a year earlier, when NSW was one of the best states, recording only 32 events.
A spokesman for the NSW Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, said the state's performance reflected the fact the state had better systems for collecting and reporting incident data than other parts of Australia.
"NSW takes patient safety seriously,'' the spokesman said, pointing to the Government's clinical excellence commission, which provides analysis of incident data twice a year.
The data showed 18 NSW procedures involving the wrong patient or body part (out of 29 nationally), 19 cases of medical instruments being left in patients after surgery (out of 37) and medication errors killing 17 patients (out of 29).
Sentinel events are independent of a patient's condition, meaning most are the result of hospital mishap. The Productivity Commission notes that while sentinel events occur relatively infrequently, they ''have the potential to seriously undermine public confidence in the healthcare system''.
All public hospitals are required to provide information on sentinel events, which include suicide of a patient, blood transfusions that involve blood group incompatibility, deaths in labour and newborns being presented to the wrong family.
Professor Rick Iedema, of the University of Technology, Sydney, said the sharp increase was likely to be a result of both more incidents and more rigorous reporting.
Professor Iedema said policy-makers were faced with a dilemma in confronting sentinel events, because efforts to push them towards zero would be costly and take funds from other health functions.
''We already know that health care is costing an absolute fortune,'' he said. ''If we are going to look at making that system totally fail-safe … we'd have to spend a prohibitive amount.''
While only figures from public hospitals were collated, he expected private hospitals to perform better because they took in patients for lower-risk procedures.
The Productivity Commission said the data was collected and released in an effort to reduce the risk of recurrence.
''The programs are not punitive, and are designed to facilitate self reporting of errors,'' it said.