AN estimated 12,000 adult deaths in hospital in England per year could be prevented with better care according to a review study published in BMJ Quality and Safety.
Among the principal problems associated with preventable hospital deaths were poor clinical monitoring, diagnostic errors and inadequate drug or fluid management.
The number is significant but much less than previous estimates of up 40,000 per year in England.
In the study retrospective case record reviews were undertaken of 1000 adults who died in 2009 in 10 acute hospitals in England. The reviewers estimated life expectancy on admission and identified problems in care that contributed to death to judge if deaths were preventable considering the patients' overall condition. Over 5 per cent of deaths were judged as having a 50 per cent or greater chance of being preventable.
Most preventable deaths (60 per cent) occurred in elderly, frail patients with multiple comorbidities who were judged to have had less than one year of life left to live.
The authors of the review conclude: "The burden of harm from preventable problems in care is still substantial." But they acknowledge that a "focus on deaths may not be the most efficient approach to identify opportunities for improvement given the low proportion of deaths due to problems with healthcare."