In Brief

Jeremy Hunt: hospital mistakes cost NHS up to £2.5bn a year

But Royal College of Nursing says ministers need to invest in more staff to improve patient care

Basic mistakes that harm patients in hospitals in England are costing the NHS up to £2.5bn a year, according to new research.

Hospitals could afford more staff if they avoided "wasteful and expensive" blunders, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is expected to say today.

He is launching a new poster campaign spelling out the additional costs for each patient who suffers one of the most basic avoidable harms such as bed sores, blood clots, falls or urinary tract infections caused by catheters.

Research by economists Frontier Economics, commissioned by the Department of Health, found that each year almost 800,000 patients suffer harm that could have been avoided. This costs up to £2.5bn a year, equivalent to the annual cost of 60,000 nurses.

Around half of this is spent on litigation, which has doubled in the past four years to £1.3bn. The rest takes into account the longer stays and treatment for patients. For example, the average patient who develops a bed sore spends 12 more days in hospital, adding an average of £2,500 to their NHS costs.

In a speech to staff at Birmingham Children's Hospital later today, Hunt will say that far too much money is being spent "picking up the pieces when things go wrong" rather than investing in staff.

"If you're short of money, poor care is about the most wasteful and expensive thing you can do," he will say. "I want every director of every hospital trust to understand the impact this harm is having not just on their patients, but also on their finances."

Hunt is not planning to set any new government targets to improve safety, calling instead for a "cultural change" to make hospitals safer places.

But Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, told the BBC that mistakes were the result of understaffed wards.

"Falls and preventable conditions such as pressure ulcers happen when there are not enough staff on a ward to care properly for every patient, not because nurses are unaware that these things should be prevented," he said.

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