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No systematic record of serious medical errors in Swiss hospitals, survey finds

A nationwide analysis shows avoidable incidents that cause patients harm occur relatively frequently in the Swiss hospital system but are managed differently across institutions.

In contrast to other countries, there is no national reporting obligation of so-called “never events” in Switzerland.

Creating a Never Event List and uniform definitions could help to standardise the management of such incidents and close the knowledge gap on their nature and frequency, the Swiss Patient Safety Foundation said in a report published on Tuesday.

The Foundation surveyed 95 Swiss hospitals in 2019 on the incidence and management of never events, which are defined as completely avoidable instances of serious patient harm. Some 73% of risk and quality managers said they considered never events to be important or central to their work.

Just over 80% believed such incidents should be systematically recorded to improve patient safety. More than half of managers said they had never been confronted with never events in their own hospitals, or if they had, it was through unofficial channels. Just 45% believed there should be a reporting obligation.

David Schwappach, director of the Patient Safety Foundation, said the hesitation around reporting has to do with a fear of public condemnation among hospitals and doctors.

“This attitude would be unthinkable in the aviation sector, where improving security for the entire system prevails,” Schwappach told the news agency Keystone-SDA.

One in ten hospital patients in Switzerland is harmed by medical treatment, according to the Federal Public Health Office. A report published in 2019 revealed that, despite some improvements made in the area of safety and quality in the last 20 years, more ambitious national efforts have failed for a lack of consensus on who bears responsibility for these issues in the Swiss health system.