‘Medical mistakes kill 3,000 Swedes a year’

Around 3,000 people die every year in Sweden because of deficient patient safety, according to two leading doctors, who argue that Sweden needs to follow other countries in debating how to address the problem.

'Medical mistakes kill 3,000 Swedes a year'

“We can’t remain blind to the serious mistakes that are committed and which cause suffering and costs and sometimes lead to death,” write Ulf Ljungblad, head doctor at Östra Hospital in Gothenburg, and former County Council chief physician Christer Engkvist in an opinion piece in the Göteborgs-Posten (GP) newspaper.

The authors argue that medical mistakes cost Swedish society between 60 and 100 billion kronor per year ($9.6 – 16 billion).

Engkvist and Ljungblad highlight several recent cases, including the death of an infant to an overdose of painkillers, two elderly patients who died after their blood poisoning was misdiagnosed as the stomach flu, as well as the case of ambulance drivers who took a lunch break instead of responding to a call.

The patient, who was having trouble breathing, died.

“Unfortunately, these cases are probably just the tip of the iceberg,” according the authors, who lament that individual cases rarely lead to any widespread debate about patient safety because it takes so long for the National Board of Health and Welfare (Social Styrelsen) to process the cases.

“When the cases have been completed, several years have often passed and the criticism put forward by the Health Board is almost never seen in the media,” write Engkvist and Ljungblad.

They argue that Sweden needs to follow the example of the United States, as well as neighbours Denmark and Norway, where unnecessary medical-related deaths have sparked concerted efforts to improve patient safety.

“There are many indications that healthcare today has a huge problem with quality that we need to address together,” they write, urging Sweden to launch a campaign to raise awareness of the issues surrounding patient safety.

“There is a lot of suffering and lots of money to save, money which can, in good measure, finance the medical advances of the future,” write Engkvist and Ljungblad.

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