What is a never event and what can I do if one happens to me?
Rachel Pearce, Partner and Head of Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence at Coodes Solicitors, explains what a never event is and what your options are if it affects you.
The Royal Cornwall Hospital recently confirmed it had recorded a cluster of ‘never events’, with eight of these incidents taking place since April. These have occurred since the hospital came out of special measures earlier this year. NHS data shows that there were 435 never events across the UK between April 1 2019 and February 29 2020.
What is a never event?
‘Never event’ is the wording used by the NHS to describe a serious healthcare incident that is entirely preventable and easily avoidable. Put simply, they should never happen.
There are 25 types of incidents that are classed as never events including:
- Wrong site surgery
- Incorrect implant or prosthesis
- Retained foreign object post procedure
- Wrong route of administration of medicine
The NHS has a full list of never events, which are split into five categories: surgical, medical, mental health, general and maternity. While all never events put patients at unnecessary risk, not all result in injury.
The NHS states that these incidents are preventable “as guidance or safety recommendations that provide strong systemic protective barriers are available at a national level and should have been implemented by all healthcare providers.”
Will I know if a never event has happened to me?
If a never event has occurred, the patient and family members will be notified.
The NHS always investigates a never event under the Serious Incident framework. The aim is for the hospital to understand how the event happened, learn from any mistakes and put measures in place to prevent anything similar from happening in future.
The NHS is due to launch a new Patient Safety Serious Incident Framework in 2021. This will outline how healthcare providers should respond to any incidents and how and when an investigation should be carried out.
What will a serious incident investigation cover?
If there is a serious incident investigation following your treatment, it will cover these steps:
- Identifying the problem.
- Gathering information. This could include conducting interviews and reviewing your clinical records.
- Analysing information. This is to help the team identify any contributory factors that led to the mistake or negligence taking place.
- Generating solution. The aim here is to make recommendations to prevent anything similar from happening in future.
The NHS’ policy states that the patient and/or affected family members must be “involved and supported throughout the investigation.” You may also be offered bereavement or post-traumatic stress counselling.
What should I do if I am affected by a never event?
If you or a family member has fallen victim to a never event while being treated in hospital, you have options to help you recover from the emotional, physical and financial impact of the incident.
If you have suffered serious harm or injury as a result of a never event, you could be entitled to compensation. The aim of this financial compensation is to, as far as possible, help you get your life back to where it would have been, had you not been harmed.
When making a clinical negligence claim you will need to provide evidence including your medical records. You will need to make a claim within three years of the never event occurring or when you find out about the incident, for example when a foreign object is found in a later examination.
If the patient is under 18, their parent or guardian can make a claim on their behalf and usually have until their 18th birthday to do so. If the parent doesn’t make a claim for them by this time, the patient has until they turn 21 to make a claim.
The time limit does not apply if you are acting on behalf of someone who lacks the capacity to make a claim themselves. This could include someone who suffers from dementia or has impaired capacity as the result of a brain injury.
If someone has died as the result of a never event, family members usually have three years from the date of death to make a claim.
Clinical negligence claims are usually highly complex so it is important to seek expert advice from a specialist lawyer with experience of handling matters resulting from never events.