VET’S VIEW: Learning lessons to help future patients

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THE Government recently announced it was setting up an annual review of patient deaths in hospital.

This follows a report from 2012 which estimated that as many as 12,000 deaths a year were preventable.

Although this figure is broadly comparable to other European countries like France and Germany, and significantly lower than that reported in the United States, it still represented a sobering statistic – more than six times the number of people killed on UK roads each year – and clearly anything that can be done to reduce the number is welcome.

What about vets? No such statistics exist for our profession, but like our medical colleagues, we are not immune from error.

No-one – doctor or vet – sets out to do a bad job; our professional satisfaction depends on knowing that we have done the best we can for our patients, but sometimes, despite our best endeavours, things may go wrong.

We have to make a decision based on insufficient information – always a problem in our field where knowledge, though growing daily, is still incomplete, or we may misjudge the nature of a problem.

Under such circumstances, it is important that we analyse in detail what has happened.

The aviation industry has an enviable safety record, due in no small part to the well-known ‘black box’ which records everything that happens on the plane. Statistics show that 75 per cent of aviation accidents are due to pilot error, but rigorous examination of those recordings and applying the lessons learned helps to keep them to a minimum.

As professionals, we, too, need to honestly and critically analyse our data when things don’t go according to plan.

Even one avoidable death – human or animal – is one too many, but if the lessons learned can help future patients, then some good may yet come out of it.