Jeremy Hunt muddled the numbers on botched surgeries

20 January 2020
What was claimed

The NHS operates on the wrong part of someone’s body four times a day.

Our verdict

Incorrect. In the English NHS surgeons operate on the wrong part of someone’s body four times a week, according to figures from April to November 2019.

“NHS operates on the wrong body part four times a day, ex-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt reveals.”

The Sun, 16 January 2020

“NHS surgeons operate on the wrong parts of patients on average four times a day, former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has revealed.”

Daily Star (print edition), 17 January 2020

Last week in parliament former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We must not be complacent about the things that go wrong.

“In the NHS, we talk about “never events”—the things that should never happen.

“Even now, after all the progress on patient safety, we operate on the wrong part of someone’s body four times a day. It is called wrong site surgery.”

Mr Hunt’s office confirmed to us that he misspoke and meant to say that there were four wrong site surgeries a week, which is correct to say. We’re grateful that he corrected the record in parliament on 27 January.

The latest data shows that between April and November 2019, there were 302 “never events” in the English NHS (averaging 1.2 a day), of which 151 were wrong site surgeries (averaging 0.6 a day).

Other sorts of never events include when surgical equipment is wrongly left in a patient’s body after treatment or they get a wrong implant.

Oddly, in the Sun’s coverage it saw no reason to question Mr Hunt’s figures, despite also reporting that in 2018 there were nine “never events” a week (or around one a day), far fewer than Mr Hunt’s number suggested.

Update 22 January 2020

We've updated this piece after Jeremy Hunt's office clarified that he misspoke in the Commons.

Update 28 January 2020

This piece was updated following Mr Hunt's correction in parliament.

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