It is the fear of every patient: Last year, too, there were thousands of treatment errors in Germany’s hospitals and medical practices.

Botched operations, overlooked fractures, damaged implants, mixed-up medicines: in Germany’s hospitals and doctor’s surgeries, there were thousands of treatment errors again last year. This is the result of figures from the Federal Medical Service, which were presented in Berlin. The expert organization then examined a total of 13,050 suspected cases in 2021, with 3,665 treatment errors being discovered.

The chairman of the medical service (MD), Stefan Gronemeyer, also assumes that there are many unreported cases. The actual number of cases is “most likely many times over”. At the same time, the statistics also show that no treatment error could be identified in 71.9 percent of the suspected cases examined.

Experts see a need for action

Nevertheless, the experts see a need for action. Gronemeyer is particularly concerned about the 130 “Never Events”. This is how particularly blatant treatment errors are described – for example when the healthy knee is accidentally operated on or surgical instruments are left in the body.

The MD boss calls for a nationwide reporting obligation for so-called never events. This is in the interests of both patients and doctors. “Both sides must be able to rely on high-quality care in which safety comes first,” said Gronemeyer. However, a prerequisite for a functioning system is the ability to report such incidents anonymously and confidentially: “The safety culture must be fearless.”

3.8 percent of medical errors fatal

According to MD, the registered number of treatment errors is at a largely unchanged level. The effects for the affected patients are very different: In two out of three cases of damage, the damage is only temporary. In 6.8 percent of the cases, however, there was severe permanent damage such as blindness or the need for care, and in 3.8 percent of the cases the treatment error led to death.

Patient advocates called for a nationwide central register in which serious treatment errors are collected and analyzed. “On the basis of the results, necessary preventive measures can be derived and it can also be checked whether they work in practice,” said the federal government’s patient officer, Stefan Schwartze. Eugen Brysch from the German Foundation for Patient Protection added: “Only comprehensive statistics show quickly and transparently where things are going wrong and where countermeasures are effective.”