Wednesday, February 18, 2009

'We ran out of shavers': Doctors' extraordinary excuses for axing 1,000 NHS operations a week

More than 1,000 NHS operations are being cancelled at the last minute each week because of avoidable mistakes at hospitals. Lost medical records, broken equipment and a lack of beds were among the excuses given to patients whose surgery was called off. But the survey of 110 Health Service trusts also revealed the extraordinary decisions behind some of the cancellations. One hospital claimed it was unable to prepare patients for surgery because it had run out of shavers, while another cancelled an operation because the surgeon had disappeared after a fire alarm. In another case, medics simply forgot about a patient who had been left in a side room awaiting surgery.

The Department of Health figures, revealed by a Freedom of Information request, revealed that the number of operations cancelled for non-clinical reasons in 2007/08 was 57,382 - 10 per cent higher than the year before. Experts now predict that the figures could top 64,000 for the first six months of this financial year.

Leeds Teaching Hospital was the worst trust for cancelling operations at the last moment, closely followed by Plymouth Hospitals Trust (1,346). At the Pennine Acute Trust, which runs hospitals in Oldham, Bury, Rochdale and Manchester, six procedures were cancelled because the surgeon was on holiday. At Plymouth Hospitals Trust, 197 were halted because of a lack of staff in theatre. Two were cancelled at Southampton University Hospitals Trust because of inadequate blood supplies, while at London's St George's Healthcare seven procedures were called off because patients' records had been lost. The Epsom and St Helier Trust was forced to cancel 58 operations because its sterilisation unit was out of action for a week. And at the George Eliot Trust, near Nuneaton, nine were halted because of a chemical spill, three because the surgeons had disappeared in a fire alarm and one because the surgeon refused to use the equipment provided. The Gloucestershire Trust cancelled ten operations because of an infection outbreak on a ward and another 23 because of a flood in the operating theatre. It also halted 53 procedures as a result of a broken lift. At Newham University Hospital Trust in East London, bosses admitted a lack of shavers resulted in operations being cancelled.

Roger Goss, of Patient Concern, said: 'Wasting patients' time and making a stressful experience even worse clearly doesn't matter. 'Contrast this with the complaints from doctors about patients missing appointments. 'Perhaps we should fine hospitals for cancelling operations at the last minute. We are the customers yet only the time of clinicians matters.'

Meanwhile, a report by the Healthcare Commission has revealed that the NHS is failing to respond properly to patients' complaints. Last year, 7,827 complaints were sent to the watchdog for independent review. Half were upheld or sent back to the trust because the initial response was not good enough. One in five of the complaints was about treatment or a wrong diagnosis, while the remainder mainly concerned the behaviour of NHS staff or a lack of information about their care.

Patients were most likely to complain about their GPs. One in eight were about family doctors - double the number complaining about nurses. The commission said the report showed that some trusts were still not responding to complaints effectively. Each year, the NHS delivers 380 million treatments and receives 135,000 complaints. Anna Walker, the commission's chief executive, said: 'It is concerning that complaints raised with us continue to be about the same basic aspects of healthcare, such as poor communication and failure to diagnose conditions.'


Australia: Dentists lash out at socialization plan

If you knew what socialized dentistry is like in Britain -- with people reduced to pulling out their own teeth with pliers -- you would run a mile from this. "Free" dentistry just leads to massive waiting lists -- sometimes even leading to death when serious problems are left untreated. There are in fact "free" dental hospitals in capital cities already but you can wait years to access them

Dentists have condemned a Medicare-style system for free universal dental care being considered by the Rudd Government as impractical, and massively expensive. The Denticare plan is part of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission's sweeping makeover in hospital and health services, including for indigenous people, the aged and young people with mental illness. Denticare would be financed by a 0.75 per cent income levy.

In its interim report released yesterday, the commission raised three options for reshaping state and federal governments' running of the health system. The proposals range from an improved version of the existing system, through to the development of a European-style social insurance scheme financed by the Commonwealth under which people could choose from health fund plans which would purchase services on their behalf. The commission is to decide which scheme it would favour in its final report to the Government expected by midyear.

The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, said the Government was happy to have a debate about the possibility of a new tax to finance Denticare, which she described as a "fairly radical proposal . but we are interested in the community's response to this".

But Dr Neil Hewson, the president of the Australian Dental Association, representing private dentists, slammed the Denticare proposal, saying it could nearly double to $11 billion the cost of dentistry to the government and individual patients. "The recommendation . for a universal Denticare scheme is impractical, nonsensical, overly simplistic and flies in the face of much of the deliberations that have taken place on this issue over the past decade," he said. "It shows no appreciation of the real problems facing dental delivery in Australia."

The association believed the Government should target the 35 per cent of the community who could not access or afford proper dental care and said it would be fiscally irresponsible to introduce a universal scheme for dentistry.

The chief executive of the Australian Health Insurance Association, Dr Michael Armitage, said insurers would consider the dental care proposal and other recommendations and compile a response to the reform commission. "The industry would support any plan to improve access to dental care for Australians but it is about more than that - it's about quality, safety and achieving better health outcomes - not just health financing," he said.

The Opposition's health spokesman, Peter Dutton, said taxpayers would pay billions of dollars in extra taxes for a national Denticare scheme. "Almost 11 million Australians or 50 per cent of the population would pay more than they currently do to meet the costs of the Denticare scheme," he said.


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