An official investigation has found that medical negligence has resulted in the deaths of more than 50 people in Western Australia over the last year.
According to the WA Health Department's 2010-11 sentinel event report there were 96 unanticipated incidents in the state over the 12 months – the highest ever recorded.
Of those, 56 resulted in the death of a patient – including two out of a total of six who died from incorrect medication being administered or supplied.
Another two cases saw surgical materials being left inside patients after they were operated on – with gauze and pads not removed before the closing procedure began.
Three of the deaths were noted to be during labour – with poor communication and equipment issues found to be contributing factors.
Not all events resulted in a fatality – two patients covered by the report found that they had the incorrect appendage operated on during their surgeries.
These incidents are known in the medical community as "sentinel events" – where an unforeseen situation occurs that results in the death or serious injury of a patient that is not directly linked to their reason for being in hospital.
While Western Australia is the only state to have mandatory reporting for this type of mishap, the high number of deaths – twice the amount of the previous financial year – could still be a cause for concern.
Speaking on the legislative imperative, director-general of health for WA Kim Snowball explained that these sentinel events were still quite rare – with the 96 cases identified amounted to one accident for every 10,000 admissions.
Snowball asserted: "All events are thoroughly investigated and lessons learned are shared across the WA health system to further improve patient safety."
This view was backed up by the executive director of the Health Consumers Council Michele Kosky who said that transparency was an important part of the medical system.
"We have an excellent health system and while these events are rare, they are very serious," said Kosky.
"There are no winners in these events, the family suffers, the practitioner suffers. But it's important there is transparency."
In NSW a medical negligence lawyer is able to assist the victims affected by a sentinel event, with a no win no fee arrangement allowing them to explore their legal options before applying for compensation.