Safety incidents at hospital, mental health and ambulance trusts were linked to more than 4,600 patient deaths in the last year, data shows.
The types of patient safety issues recorded by the National Reporting & Learning System (NRLS), which compiles NHS data, include problems with medication, the type of care given, staffing and infection control.
In total 4,668 deaths were linked to patient safety incidents, of which 530 deaths specifically linked to mental health trusts and 73 to ambulance trusts.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “These figures are heartbreaking and our thoughts are with the families who have lost a loved one in these circumstances.” He blamed “years of Tory cutbacks” for understaffing and for increasing pressures putting patients at risk.
Guidance accompanying the data from the NRLS, which was set up in 2003, states deaths are not always “clear-cut” and cannot always be attributed to patient safety incidents. However, under the “degree of harm” section recorded on the system, there were 4,688 cases listed as death.
In total, 4,356,277 reports of patient safety incidents were reported between November 2018 and October 2019. They are described as issues where unintended or unexpected incidents which could have – or did – lead to harm of a patient under the care of the NHS.
Other safety incidents had links to consent, paperwork, facilities, and in some cases patient abuse by staff or a third party.
Labour, which shared the figures, said patient safety should be front and centre of the NHS and that it would legislate for appropriate staffing levels to improve patient safety.
Last month GPs said winter pressures were likely to have an impact on patient safety, while nine out of 10 hospital bosses felt staffing pressures were putting patients’ health at risk.
They claimed hospitals were so short of medical staff that safety and quality of care for patients were under threat. In addition, almost six in 10 (58%) believe this winter will be the toughest yet for the service.
In October, the chief inspector of hospitals at the Care Quality Commission said the NHS had made little progress in improving patient safety over the past 20 years.
Ashworth also described as “shameful” a photograph that emerged on Sunday of a four-year-old boy lying on a pile of coats on the floor of a hospital in Leeds because of bed shortage.
The image was shared with the Yorkshire Evening Post by the boy’s mother, Sarah Williment.
She said he had been rushed to Leeds general infirmary by ambulance with suspected pneumonia on 3 December, but was forced to lie on the floor of a clinical treatment room with an oxygen mask for more than four hours.
“Boris Johnson should personally apologise to Jack and his family,” said Ashworth. “A decade of Tory cuts has brought us to this crisis in our NHS.”
In response, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the data showed that more patient safety incidents were being reported, not that there had been an increase in incidents.
“We are proud of our record on patients’ safety,” he said. “This data is published specifically to encourage a culture of transparency and learning.”