Government Service with an Oops!

Remember stories about the horrors of the American medical system?  Operations performed on the wrong leg and such?  Guess what:  it’s also a problem in Great Britain, with its wonderful, equal, fair National Health Service.  Reports the Independent:

The cases of 14 brain surgery patients who were the victims of catastrophic errors when neurosurgeons operated on the wrong side of the head are to spearhead a government drive to make operations safer.


Sir Liam Donaldson, the Government’s chief medical officer, will highlight the cases at the launch of his annual report today when he will announce the establishment of a new clinical board for surgical safety to reduce errors and eliminate “wrong site” mistakes.

About 7.9 million operations are performed in Britain each year, nearly 10 times the number of births, yet surgical safety attracts far less attention than the safety of maternity care.

In 2007 more than one operation a month — 16 in all — was done on the wrong site. Examples include knee replacements on the wrong (healthy) knee, cochlear implants — surgically implanted hearing aids — in the wrong ear, removing bone from the wrong foot and wrong incisions to gain access to organs in the abdomen.

One patient a day was listed for the wrong operation in 2007, and there were 1,136 errors involving operating lists, including mistaken surgery, wrongly identified patients or operations performed in the wrong place.

The 14 brain surgery patients had suffered head injuries causing bleeding in the brain leading to increased pressure in the head. The standard treatment is to drill holes in the skull to release the pressure, but in the 14 cases the “burr-holes”, were drilled on the wrong side. A second set of burr-holes then had to be drilled on the correct side. The 14 cases, all in the UK, were reported to the National Patient Safety Agency over the past three years.

That’s a pleasant thought.  Wake up from brain surgery and find they’ve punched holes all over your head!  People just might want to keep Britain’s experience in mind before pushing to collective our medical system.