Failings in Welsh NHS led to dozens of patient deaths.
DOZENS of patients died and thousands more suffered harm as a result of mistakes made by Welsh NHS staff over the last 12 months, it has been revealed.
New Welsh Government figures show that 77 patients died due to an "unintended or unexpected" safety incident between June 2018 and May 2019. Over the same period, 372 patients suffered "severe" harm and a further 8,463 experienced "moderate" harm.
Tens of thousands of Welsh patients were also subjected to "low" levels of harm or no harm at all after the mistake was spotted in time.
Patient accidents, errors during medical procedures, drug miscalculations and paperwork blunders were some of the most common incidents reported by staff.
Helen Whyley, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales, said low staffing levels also significantly contributed to patient harm.
According to a recent report by the organisation, 77% of nurses said they felt patient care was being compromised "several times a month" due to short staffing.
Ms Whyley said: "Nurses are no different from other health professionals and practitioners - they aim to prevent avoidable errors and patient harm and to give the best care. However, inevitably human and technical errors can and do occur.
"It is very important to have a culture of no blame which encourages staff to report incidences. Patient safety is an essential and vital component of highquality healthcare and learning from these incidences is central to achieving this high quality.
"The learning has to focus on the actions of individuals but also most importantly on the system and culture in which they operate."
Welsh NHS staff voluntarily input any safety breaches into a database known as the National Reporting and Learning System (NRLS). The data is then collated by NHS Improvement.
The system was set up in 2003 to ensure the health service learns from mistakes and implements safeguards to improve patient care.
During the 12-month period, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board recorded by far the most deaths due to patient safety breaches (48), followed by Aneurin Bevan (17) and Powys (six).
The highest number of deaths was recorded in May 2019 (23), with 10 in Betsi Cadwaladr UHB, nine in Aneurin Bevan, three in Cardiff and Vale and one in Hywel Dda.
However, those who collate the data claim that "large peaks" in incident reporting tend to take place in May and November because organisations upload batches of data to meet the cut-off dates for inclusion in the official figures produced every six months.
Similarly, Betsi Cadwaladr also recorded the greatest number of "severe" incidents, followed by Powys Teaching Health Board and Cardiff and Vale UHB.
Shadow Health Minister Angela Burns AM said the figures for Betsi Cadwaladr were particularly concerning.
"People accessing healthcare under the Welsh NHS have enough to worry about at the moment, especially in north Wales, so these figures must make for worrying reading for patients," she said.
A spokeswoman for Betsi Cadwaladr UHB - Wales' largest health board, serving around 700,000 patients - said: "We would like to reassure patients that the number of deaths reported in May 2019 reflect a delay in uploading cases to the NRLS system. In reality, there were no deaths as a result of serious untoward incidents in May.
"The figures show the number of incidents reported occurred sometime prior to this period - these have all been investigated, closed and uploaded to the NRLS system."
A spokeswoman for Aneurin Bevan University Health Board said: "The health board investigates fully and openly reports all incidents that may occur in order to learn from them and to ensure we continue to provide services of the highest standard and quality for our patients.
"The published figures do not always reflect the number of incidents in any one month, as they are reported only when the investigation into an incident is closed."
Nesta Lloyd-Jones, interim director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said patient safety "will always be of paramount importance" to everyone working in the Welsh NHS.
She said: "Where patient safety has fallen short or care doesn't meet the high standards we set for ourselves, we will always aim to put it right.
"We would encourage anyone with any concerns about the care they are receiving to raise them as soon as possible. The NHS in Wales has a clear process where any complaints which have been made are fully investigated."
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: "Every year, thousands of patients receive high-quality, safe and effective treatment, but in a modern health system - where increasingly complicated procedures are being undertaken - incidents can and will still happen.
"When this happens, the NHS must investigate openly and learn and provide assurance and feedback to patients and their families.
"We expect every NHS organisation to report every incident, whether small or serious, on a regular basis to the National Reporting and Learning System. High levels and regular reporting provides organisations with more opportunities to learn and improve patient safety."