The number of potentially preventable and premature deaths in nursing homes across Australia more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2013, a comprehensive report from Monash University has found.
According to the study, there were nearly 3,300 deaths over the 13-year period from falls, choking, suicide, homicide and other incidents, many of which could have been stopped if better aged care strategies were in place.
The deaths of 21,672 nursing home residents were reported to the Coroners Court, meaning potentially preventable cases comprised more than 15 per cent of the total.
Nursing homes found in breach of their duty of care to residents may be guilty of medical negligence, which could result in relatives receiving compensation for aged care failings.
Medical negligence in nursing homes
Figures from the Monash University research revealed that 81.5 per cent of deaths from external factors were due to falls. A further 7.9 per cent died because of choking incidents, while 1.2 per cent passed away following clinical care complications.
The study also revealed that nearly one in 18 people were either killed by other residents or committed suicide.
Professor Joseph Ibrahim, head of the Health Law and Ageing Research Unit at the Department of Forensic Medicine, claimed that the 400 per cent rise in preventable deaths may just be the tip of the iceberg.
He admitted the figure has increased partly because reporting has become more robust but added that many more deaths could be misclassified as 'natural' because medical practitioners downplay injury-related factors.
Professor Ibrahim suggested that a tendency to assume that underlying health problems or old age were the primary reasons for death could also mean some incidents go unreported.
"Professionals from governments and the nursing home sector should develop strategies for preventing these deaths and establish a lead authority responsible for reducing harm by improving practice in nursing homes," he explained.
"Improving the quality of care for nursing home residents requires a better understanding of how, why, where and when they die. The global population is ageing rapidly, and the need for aged care services is consequently increasing."
Nursing home medication errors
A previous study from Professor Ibrahim in 2016 emphasised the frequency with which nursing home residents were the victims of medication errors.
A staggering 75 per cent of people were prescribed potentially inappropriate drugs, according to a Monash University review of 11 studies published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Furthermore, between 13 and 31 per cent of residents suffered from 'transfer-related medication errors', which are mistakes that occur during the hand-off of a patient between care facilities.
"Nursing homes should review their systems of care, from prescribing to administration. Good practice requires using a team-based approach involving the resident, care and nursing staff, pharmacists, and medical practitioners," Professor Ibrahim stated.
Do you feel that you or a loved one has suffered medical negligence while resident in a nursing home? Please get in touch with Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers.