Tag Archive for: patient safety


Headline news: “Doctors and nurses may face jail for neglect”?

It has been an important few weeks in for doctors in the United Kingdom, sensationalist headlines have been on the front pages of many of the national newspapers: “Doctors and nurses may face jail for neglect

This has all stemmed for the publication of the Francis report and Berwick review into patient safety. They detail recommendations on how the National Health Service (NHS) can learn and improve the standard of patient safety. The Berwick report was led by Professor Don Berwick, an international expert and former adviser to US president Barack Obama, in patient safety. He was asked by the British Prime Minister David Cameron to carry out the review following the publication of the Francis Report into the breakdown of care at a Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Hospital.

Stafford Hospital is an NHS hospital in the West Midlands area of England where hundreds of hospital patients died as a result of substandard care and staff failings between January 2005 and March 2009. The Mid Staffordshire Trust failed to provide safe care in the wards, people lay starving, thirsty and in soiled bedclothes. Decisions about which patients to treat were left to receptionists, inexperienced junior doctors were put in charge of critically-ill patients, and nurses switched off equipment because they did not know how to use it. The culture of the hospital Trust was one of secrecy and defensiveness. The inquiry highlights a whole system failure.

Both reports highlight the main problems affecting patient safety in some hospitals in the NHS and makes recommendations on how to address them. It says that the health system must, amongst many things, recognise the need for wide systemic change by abandoning blame as a tool and trust the goodwill and good intentions of the staff. The use of quantitative targets must be approached with caution and they should never displace the primary goal of better care.

The main headline grabbing item was the recommendation that the UK Government should create a new general offence of willful or reckless neglect or mistreatment applicable both to organisations and individuals.

Organisational sanctions might involve removal of the organisation’s leaders and their disqualification from future leadership roles, public reprimand of the organisation and, in extremis, financial sanctions but only where that will not compromise patient care.

Individual sanctions should be on a par with those in Section 44 of the Mental Health Capacity Act 2005 in UK law, which states that a person can be found guilty of an offence if he ill-treats or willfully neglects a person who lacks capacity and if convicted could be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or a fine or both.

So does this affect us as urologists?

As doctors our first duty of care is towards our patients and patient safety should be our number one priority. However, in light of the report there is the possibility of a custodial sentence to individual(s) where the standard of care falls far short of expectations and blatant neglect is proven. In the age of clinical teams, proving that one individual was at fault is very difficult.

There has been a recent case in the UK press in which a surgeon has been jailed for two and a half years for manslaughter for gross negligence of a patient.

In another case in Australia a 63-year-old American surgeon working in a hospital in Queensland faced complaints from hospital staff that he had botched operations, misdiagnosed patients and used poor surgical techniques. He was arrested in the US in 2008 and extradited to Australia to stand trial. He was jailed for seven years in 2010 after being convicted of criminal negligence leading to the deaths of three patients.

These are two isolated cases but both demonstrate that the days when problematic surgeons were quietly retired are over. Our actions will be scrutinised by an ever demanding public with complications not just being discussed in mortality and morbidity meetings locally but in some cases publicly and in extreme situations in the courts.

My question to the readers is: what happens to clinical staff in your individual countries when clinical negligence and neglect is accused? Is jail time a possibility if proven?


Jonathan Makanjuola is a Urology Trainee, Innovator and techie based at King’s College Hospital, London, United Kingdom. @jonmakUrology

Article of the week: Surgical safety checklist for robotic surgery

Every week the Editor-in-Chief selects the Article of the Week from the current issue of BJUI. The abstract is reproduced below and you can click on the button to read the full article, which is freely available to all readers for at least 30 days from the time of this post.

In addition to the article itself, there is an accompanying editorial written by a prominent member of the urological community. This blog is intended to provoke comment and discussion and we invite you to use the comment tools at the bottom of each post to join the conversation.

If you only have time to read one article this week, it should be this one.

Development and content validation of a surgical safety checklist for operating theatres that use robotic technology

Kamran Ahmed, Nuzhath Khan, Mohammed Shamim Khan and Prokar Dasgupta

MRC Centre for Transplantation, King’s College London, King’s Health Partners, Department of Urology, Guy’s Hospital, London, UK

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• To identify and assess potential hazards in robot-assisted urological surgery.

• To develop a comprehensive checklist to be used in operating theatres with robotic technology.


• Healthcare Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (HFMEA), a risk assessment tool, was used in a urology operating theatre with innovative robotic technology in a UK teaching hospital between June and December 2011.

• A 15-member multidisciplinary team identified ‘failure modes’ through process mapping and flow diagrams.

• Potential hazards were rated according to severity and frequency and scored using a ‘hazard score matrix’.

• All hazards scoring ≥8 were considered for ‘decision tree’ analysis, which produced a list of hazards to be included in a surgical safety checklist.


• Process mapping highlighted three main phases: the anaesthesia phase, the operating phase and the postoperative handover to recovery phase.

• A total of 51 failure modes were identified, 61% of which had a hazard score ≥8.

• A total of 22 hazards were finalised via decision tree analysis and were included in the checklist.

• The focus was on hazards specific to robotic urological procedures such as patient positioning (hazard score 12), port placement (hazard score 9) and robot docking/de-docking (hazard score 12).


• HFMEA identified hazards in an operating theatre with innovative robotic technologies which has led to the development of a surgical safety checklist.

• Further work will involve validation and implementation of the checklist.


Read Previous Articles of the Week


Editorial: Sergeant, do you copy?

In the Institute of Medicine report published in 1999, it was estimated that 44 000–98 000 patients died annually from preventable medical errors. It was further reported that the annual burden on economy due to preventable medical errors was anywhere between 17–29 billion American dollars. In the USA federal budget 2000–2001, the entire federal resources devoted to general science, space and technology was 19.2 billion American dollars: ≈10 billion less than the cost of medical errors (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. The magnitude of problem caused by medical errors. USDs, American dollars.

On root cause analysis of the errors identified in the Joint Commission on Accreditation and Certification database (2011), it was reported that most of these errors are non-technical, i.e. human factors (72%), leadership (65%), communication breakdown (61%), etc. Furthermore, Greenberg et al. studied the patterns of communication breakdown on the Malpractice Insurers’ Medical Error Prevention Study (MIMEPS) database and concluded that breakdown patterns were similar preoperatively (38%), intraoperatively (30%) and postoperatively (32%). Most errors were due to miscommunication within a single department (78%), as compared with across departments (19%) or institutions (3%). In 49% of the cases, the information was never relayed and in 44% the information relayed was not comprehended appropriately. In all, 29% of these errors involved a surgery attending at transmitting end and 56% at the receiving end of information. In all, 85% of these communications were verbal.

In this issue of BJUI, Ahmed et al. have used the Healthcare Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (HFMEA) model to design a safety checklist specifically for robotic procedures. Checklists have been heavily used in high-risk environments that involve complex technology, e.g. aerospace and nuclear engineering. Robotic surgery is another such high-risk environment, where intraoperative communication is critical. When a surgeon performs a robotic surgery, (s)he is not standing next to the patient (and occasionally not even in the same room!) and relies heavily on his/her assistant. Additionally, the bulky robot takes most of the space around the patient. Small movements of the instruments can cause abrupt and exaggerated movements of the robotic arms, which might injure the bedside assistant, anaesthesiologist, or the patient himself. Last, but not the least, there is a memory clutch on the robotic arms, and its purpose is to ‘remember’ the position of the arms while exchanging the instruments. However, if this clutch is pressed by mistake, all memory is lost and careless insertion of an instrument at this time, making an assumption of memory, can be dangerous and can cause serious injury. The safety checklist described by Ahmed et al. is one of the first checklists specific to robotic surgery. In parallel to this, the Fundamentals of Robotic Surgery (FRS) inter-disciplinary consortium led by Dr Richard Satava has also developed a checklist, specifically for robotic surgery. It will be interesting to study the actual impact of these checklists on prevention of medical errors in robotic surgery. Similar checklists have been validated showing significant clinical correlation using in situ simulation for obstetric emergencies.

Although checklists do help to a certain extent to prevent serious errors, the basics of communications must not be forgotten while communicating to a colleague about patient care. There should be no ambiguity about who is the ‘transmitter’ and who is the ‘receiver’ of information. Both the ‘transmitter’ and ‘receiver’ should have a shared mental model about the purpose of communication (‘transmitter’ is seeking guidance, giving orders, asking for an opinion, referring a case, etc.). Finally, closed-loop communication should be a part of protocol where both the ‘receiver’ and ‘transmitter’ acknowledge the receipt of information, e.g.

Console Surgeon: ‘Please replace the scissors in the right arm with the needle driver’.

Assistant: ‘OK, I am replacing the scissors in your right arm with a needle driver’.

Console Surgeon: ‘Go ahead’.

Assistant: ‘Needle driver coming in’.

Console Surgeon: ‘Perfect. Thank you’.


Sanket Chauhan and Robert M. Sweet
Department of Urology, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, MN, USA

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