Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The NHS will look after you -- as long as you are not a patient

Public money totalling 1.6 million pounds has been paid out in redundancy settlements to seven senior employees following a merger of NHS trusts in Staffordshire. South Staffordshire Primary Care Trust (PCT), which took over the functions of four previous trusts, has given the money to two chief executives, three directors, a deputy director and a senior manager during the shake-up. Had the money been given to support frontline services, it would be enough to pay the wages of 50 nurses at the average NHS nursing salary of 31,600 including overtime.

Stuart Poyner, chief executive of South Staffordshire PCT, said the payouts, revealed in a Freedom of Information request, were a legal requirement. Other health organisations making big payouts to former employees including NHS West Midlands, the strategic health authority which manages a budget of 7 billion. It spent 2.2 million paying off 97 staff in the two years to August 2008.

Health chiefs are spending 360,000 of public money in an attempt to reduce the high level of sickness and absenteeism among NHS workers in Scotland, where absence rates are 60 per cent higher than in the private sector and are still on the rise. Sick leave in the NHS in Scotland currently costs the taxpayer 222 million a year. However, critics said there was no guarantee that the campaign to combat the problem would produce results, and claimed that managers should be tackling absenteeism in the normal course of their work without incurring extra costs in doing so.

Mark Wallace, of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Spending even more money on the problem is not a solution. If so many staff are taking sick leave, it is a sign that either people are getting away with sickies or they are being mismanaged to the point of illness." Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish health minister, said the funding of 360,000 from the government at Holyrood would help health boards to meet a target of reducing sickness rates to four per cent by April 2009.

Figures show that in 2007-08 there was a sickness absence rate of 5.28 per cent in the NHS in Scotland - equivalent to 12 days off a year per person - compared to a private sector average of 3.3 per cent, or seven and a half days. Low morale and overwork has been blamed for the problem, which cost the taxpayer 10m more than the previous year. The figures cover all NHS staff, from doctors and nurses to cleaners and porters.


Medi mishaps blowout in the Australian State of Victoria

Crooked official statistics again

Victorian surgeons and theatre assistants mistakenly left 78 objects inside patients last year - seven times more than official records show. Hospital admission records collated for the Herald Sun show 756 objects were accidentally left in patients after surgery since 2000, far more than reported by health authorities or the State Government. The Government's "sentinel events" reports - which rely on hospitals to notify adverse incidents - show 47 instruments or other materials have been left in patients since 2002-03 that required further surgery to remove.

But figures compiled for the Herald Sun by Monash University's injury surveillance unit indicate more than 550 objects were left in patients in the same period. It is unknown how many of the objects required further surgery, but all patients required further hospital care.

Medical Error Action Group spokeswoman Lorraine Long said it was becoming a major problem. "The Government is not aware how common this is because the sentinel event data relies on people reporting it, and the last thing they are going to do is report something that will expose them to litigation," she said. "There seems to be a failure in the counting back of equipment and materials during surgery. "The consequences of leaving materials inside people can be death if it gets infected, but when patients go back to doctors and tell them they don't feel right they are not believed. "It just gets down to personal responsibility because it is not just the person doing the operation, there are another couple of sets of eyes and it gets down to being accountable, concentrating and following procedures of counting swabs and instruments."

Peter Shanahan, 60, is suing Melbourne Private Hospital after a 22cm surgical pack was allegedly left in his bowel for nine months, leading to agonising pain, the loss of a large section of his bowel and a possibly needless hernia operation after he complained of a lump in his lower abdomen. He claims the alleged mishap during routine bowel surgery ruined a year of his life. "Every time I speak to somebody in the medical field about it, they say it can't happen, that it's an impossibility. But I am proof," he said. "I don't know what the answer is, but it just shouldn't happen."

The Government's official sentinel events report listed only 11 instances where doctors reported leaving objects in their patients in 2007-08 - five involving instruments, wires or clips, five of packs or swabs and one case of a dental plate being retained. In 2006-07, the government report detailed eight retained objects, despite hospital records showing the real number was 85 in 2006 and 78 in 2007. But the biggest discrepancy occurred in 2004, when hospital admissions show 157 patients having treatment for objects left in their body. Government records from 2004-05 show just five cases, while the 2003-04 records list only eight.

Department of Human Services spokesman Bram Alexander said the sentinel events reports only dealt with "catastrophic incidents" where discovery was made after surgery was completed and requiring a new operation. He said some unreported instances may have involved items noticed missing before patients left the operating theatre, allowing surgeons to retrieve the items before recording the reason why the operation took longer on their admission records.


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