Deaths following prehospital safety incidents: an analysis of a national database

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Ensuring patient safety in the prehospital environment is difficult due to the unpredictable nature of the workload and the uncontrolled situations that care is provided in. Studying previous safety incidents can help understand risks and take action to mitigate them. We present an analysis of safety incidents related to patient deaths in ambulance services in England.


All incidents related to a patient death reported to the National Reporting and Learning System from an ambulance service between 1 June 2010 and 31 October 2012 were subjected to thematic analysis to identify the failings that led to the incident.


Sixty-nine incidents were analysed, equating to one safety incident-related death per 168 000 calls received. Just three event categories were identified: delayed response (59%, 41/69), shortfalls in clinical care (35%, 24/69) and injury during transit (6%, 4/69). Primary failures differed for the categories: problems with dispatch caused the majority of delays in response, with equipment problems and bad weather accounting for the remainder. Failure to provide necessary care was predominantly caused by clinical misjudgements by ambulance staff and equipment issues underlay incidents that led to a patient injury.


Improvements intended to address safety related mortality in the ambulance service should include ensuring adequate equipping and resourcing of ambulance services, improving coordination and decision-making during dispatch and supporting individual staff members in the difficult decisions they are faced with.

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