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Three million patients claim to have suffered preventable harm in primary care

Around three million patients believe they have experienced a potentially harmful event in primary care that could have been prevented, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Manchester found that around half of those suspect that their health has been made worse as a result.

But GPs reviewing the claims said that the majority of cases were unlikely to have caused harm.

The study, published in BMJ Open, included a nationally representative survey of nearly 4,000 people across England, Wales and Scotland, aged 15 years and older, which took place in April 2016.

It analysed the frequency of potentially harmful preventable problems in primary care from the patient’s perspective and found that 8% of the study participants reported experiencing such an issue during the past 12 months.

Not only this, but these patients were eight times more likely to have ‘no confidence and trust in primary care’, while those who discussed their perceived problem – approximately half – appeared to maintain higher trust and confidence.

The reported events, which mainly occurred in general practice, were also reviewed by two teams, with the first containing five GPs and one general dental practitioner, and the second involving seven members of the public.

When evaluating the issues, GPs categorised just 8% of the problems occurring during the past year as ‘probably to almost certainly’ potentially harmful, whereas the corresponding proportion for the public group was 39%.

The authors wrote: ‘Scaling our results up to the Great Britain adult population implies that around 3 million patients believe that they have experienced a potentially harmful preventable problem during the past 12 months and 1.5 million believe or suspect that their health has been made worse as a result.’

Study lead from the University of Manchester Dr Jill Stocks said: ‘Our survey suggests there are probably a large number of patients in Great Britain who believe they have experienced a potentially-harmful preventable problem in primary care.

‘Importantly, only around half of the patients discussed their concern with somebody working in primary care yet those that did, retained a higher level of confidence and trust in their GP.’

Fellow researcher and professor of general practice Dr Aneez Esmail said that patient views are ‘important when something goes wrong, irrespective of whether significant harm is caused’.

He added: ‘Working with patients when something has gone wrong can help re-build trust with the GPs and other clinicians.’

This comes after health secretary Jeremy Hunt promised to make the NHS the ‘safest healthcare system in the world’ by linking GP prescribing with hospital admissions data to see if an incorrect prescription ‘was the likely cause of a patient being admitted to hospital’.