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More than 1 in 20 patients feel they’ve experienced potentially harmful problems in primary care


An NIHR-funded study has estimated that around three million Britons - or 7.6 % of the country - believe they have experienced a harmful or potentially harmful but preventable problem in primary care.

The research, funded by the NIHR Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre, also reveals a divide between how patients and clinicians perceive problems in primary care. Doctors who reviewed the problems reported by patients felt that only around 8% of them might be potentially harmful.

The findings are based on a representative survey of nearly 4000 people in England, Scotland and Wales and have been published in BMJ Open. The survey asked respondents whether they felt they had experienced any preventable and potentially harmful problems in their care over the past 12 months.

Potentially avoidable problems reported by patients included:

  • Being prescribed medication without necessary blood tests, resulting in hospital admission and cardiac arrest
  • Chronic nose bleeding over several months that was not addressed and that turned out to be cancer
  • Failing to identify a retained placenta in a new mum – a potentially life threatening condition.

Around 20% of the problems reported by patients involved prescribing of medicines and 12% involved late, and missed or wrong, diagnoses. 

Lead researcher Dr Jill Stocks from The University of Manchester said: “Our survey suggests there is 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.”

Professor of General Practice Aneez Esmail from The University of Manchester, a member of the research team, said: “This study shows that the views of patients are important when something goes wrong, irrespective of whether significant harm is caused.

“We also showed that working with patients when something has gone wrong can help re-build trust with the GPs and other clinicians.”

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