The Sheffield Star today reports on the rising number of ‘never events’ – ie serious, largely preventable incidents which should never occur - both at Sheffield Hospitals and nationwide. The NHS introduced a policy relating to ‘never events’ in April 2009 and originally listed eight categories of such events. The list of ‘never events’ has since been expanded to include items being left inside a patient after surgery, wrong implants and various medication errors.

This identification of certain categories of incident which should not happen and must be reported as such is a good thing, as is the idea that culpable hospitals would be penalised financially for such events. However, we had anticipated that the introduction of this ‘scheme’ would result in steps being taken to reduce the incidence of these events. However, both from published figures and the experience of the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, this does not appear to have been the case.

Philippa Luscombe, partner in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP said: “One benefit that we have generally seen arising from the scheme is that, where a claim is brought following a ‘never event’, an early admission of liability is often forthcoming and, just as importantly, an apology to the patient and their family. At least, therefore, the errors are being acknowledged and the costs of litigation arising out of such incidents reduced.

"However, we also thought that the identification of 'never events' would result in improved processes and reduced numbers of such events but we have not seen this. We currently have a number of clients with cases arising from swabs or wires being left inside them in error; incorrect use or administration of medication; incorrect implants being used and other incidences covered by the ‘never event list. While it is true that the cost of litigation relating to these incidents has reduced – which can only be a good thing - there are still high numbers occurring with consequent claims by those injured. We believe that there should be a way of capturing the data from the reporting of these and enforcing changes where the numbers are on the increase so that these events really do become ‘never events’.”