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Medical error death risk 1 in 300

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The Guardian, UK
Sarah Hall, health correspondent
Tuesday November 7, 2006

The risk of dying in hospital as a result of medical error is one in 300, Britain's most senior doctor warned yesterday.

Clinical misjudgments or mistakes mean that the odds of dying as a result of being treated in hospital are 33,000 times higher than those of dying in an air crash, according to the chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson. "In an airline industry, the evidence ... from scheduled airlines is the risk of death is one in 10m. If you go into a hospital in the developed world, the risk of death from a medical error is one in 300," he said.

The stark warning came as Sir Liam publicised the next stage of a World Health Organisation campaign to improve patient safety by minimising hospital-acquired infections. Between 5% and 10% of patients admitted to modern hospitals in the developed world acquire one or more infections, with at least 5,000 deaths directly attributed to healthcare-acquired infections in England each year.

But while healthcare-acquired infections have captured the public's imagination - with figures for 2004 showing 1,300 people died of the bug Clostridium difficile and 360 of MRSA after attending hospital in England alone - Sir Liam stressed that health professionals needed to do more than address hygiene to improve patients' safety.

Operations needed to be carried out in a more standardised way, particularly where there was a high risk of complications.

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