Is the NHS Workload Leading to Surgical Mistakes?


Over the last few years, clinical negligence cases have been rising within the NHS, particularly surgical mistakes. This article will explore what could be causing the growing number of surgical mistakes in the NHS…

The National Health System (NHS) has long been considered a world leading health care institution in the UK. It’s long been a system that provides access to free health care and treatments for a range of illnesses, including emergency help.

Whilst the NHS is a wonderful life saving service, when making comparisons against other healthcare systems, it’s easy to see where the flaws show. Over the last few years, these flaws have been causing dire consequences.

A lack of funding and overcrowding in emergency rooms are just two examples of why the NHS is struggling, leading to more severe consequences down the line. Headlines in the media highlighting where a surgeon made a mistake is cropping up more often and the longevity on the NHS is in question. Let’s delve into more detail…

Cases of Surgical Mistakes

A rising number of surgical mistakes are compromising the health and wellbeing of many patients, causing serious health implications.

Amongst the most severe examples of surgery gone wrong through the NHS involved a hysterectomy operation on a woman where the surgeon mistakenly removed her ovaries, causing her to experience an early menopause

There have been cases where surgeons have left medical tools inside patients’ bodies, including chest drains, surgical gloves, and medical drill parts. One surgeon removed the incorrect toe when performing an amputation procedure, and another wrongly removed a part of a patient’s colon by mistake.

In another case, a woman was scheduled to have a lump removed from her breast, the practicing surgeon did not remove the lump, but took out a non- malignant lump from the wrong breast.

These types of cases are incredibly traumatic for the patients involved and for their loved ones. Surgical mistakes that were previously unheard of, or rare, are happening far more often.

What is Causing an Increased Financial Pressure on the NHS?

According to data from BMJ, the NHS is spending an increasing amount of money on clinical negligence cases. These cases have included medication errors, surgical mistakes, and preventable post-surgery infections.

As clinical negligence cases escalate, the NHS is increasingly under threat. In the UK, the money used for medical negligence pay-outs is taken from healthcare funds, causing a vicious cycle and constant financial struggle.

To examine the nature of these failings and understand them, we must consider why these surgical mistakes are happening and why they are increasing. Some have argued that the NHS workload could be a factor in the rising number of surgical mistakes.

Is the NHS Workload Leading to Surgical Mistakes?

It’s all very well blaming surgeons as the reason mistakes are made due to human error, but what are the other significant factors at play in the NHS…

1 . Excessive Workload and Burnout

A recent Parliament report indicated that workforce burnout was affecting NHS and social care workers, on a mass scale. The report addresses these concerns suggesting that, ‘Some NHS and are staff are suffering from fatigue, exhaustion and general feeling of being “burnout”, and set out how the wellbeing of staff (particularly their mental health) is at significant risk.’

Many cases of burnout have been attributed to excessive workloads. The Parliament reports further detailed that ‘Chronic excessive workload has been identified as a key factor’. Many NHS employees are overworked and therefore more likely to cause surgical mistakes.

A report from the National Library of Medicine concluded that burnout was particularly prevalent among surgeons during the Covid-19 pandemic. One study showed that 57% were experiencing burnout in the form of emotional exhaustion.

Stress is not uncommon in the healthcare sector, and the impact on performance can cause serious consequences. Not only this, burnout and stress are linked to various health conditions including cardiovascular disease, depression, and diabetes.

2. Staff Shortages

Evidence shows that the NHS is experiencing huge staff shortages, according to recent NHS data, ‘the number of unfilled posts across health services in England has risen to 110,192.’ Data shows that the NHS is short of, ‘8,158 doctors and 39,652 nurses.’

The staffing crisis has been linked to health care delays and many believe that these shortages have reduced the quality of health care. When the quality of health care is undermined, the result is that errors are more likely, including surgical mistakes.

According to The Guardian, ‘Staff groups said they feared that low pay, burnout from heavy workloads and constant pressure during shifts, compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, were leading demoralized workers to quit.’

With a large backlog of patients, colleagues are under a rising amount of pressure, to take on extra shifts. Many NHS workers are taking on more hours than are healthy and appropriate, it’s likely that their performance is suffering as a result.

3. Low Pay

Research from Nursing Notes shows that, ‘an experienced band 5 nurse takes home around 5,000 less per year than they did a decade ago.’ The NHS has been subjected to pay cuts for more than a decade, with so many workers on low pay, many employees are left feeling demoralized.

It’s likely that low pay is a contributing factor that may be reducing workplace performance, increasing the likelihood of surgical errors. Research from the Boorman Review indicates that well-being affects the quality of care, and when workers receive low pay this has a knock on effect on their well-being.

Experts like Alia Butt, Chair of NHS Staff Voices has asserted that low pay is a patient safety concern, explaining that, ‘Patients inevitably suffer from the devaluing of workers.’

The future of the NHS hangs in the balance…

No one can argue that the NHS plays a significant role in keeping the UK healthy, but the longevity of its existence is on everyone’s minds. It’s existence influences our lives significantly in terms of whether we turn to private healthcare, which can be costly and many can’t afford.

Many believe the struggles of the NHS are purposely made worse by the government pushing the UK into normalizing private health care decisions. It is clear there are ways to improve the NHS services that have been brought to attention in this article.

By improving the staff shortages and wages the effect of burnout may not be so prominent and surgical mistakes may be reduced.



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