Key points

  • Research suggests that levels of patient harm range from 3% to 25% in acute care. Half to a third of these events are thought to be preventable.
  • In primary care, evidence is sparser but about 9% of primary care records indicate an error in either primary or secondary care, equivalent to 1 in 48 consultations (2%).
  • Studies suggest that people receive only half of the appropriate care for their condition.
  • Older people and those requiring a longer hospital stay are more likely to experience an adverse event.
  • Factors thought to contribute to adverse events in healthcare include:
    • human factors such as teamwork, communication, stress and burnout
    • structural factors such as reporting systems, infrastructure, workforce loads and the environment
    • clinical factors such as complexity of care and length of stay.

About one in 10 patients is harmed through healthcare. This statistic is based on evidence collated more than a decade ago, much of it from outside the UK.

This evidence scan seeks to understand whether this statistic is still valid and accurate for use. It summarises readily available research about levels of patient harm in acute and primary care and the potential causes of such harm.

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