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Patient safety incidents associated with tracheostomies occurring in hospital wards: a review of reports to the UK National Patient Safety Agency


Background Tracheostomies are increasingly common in hospital wards due to the rising use of percutaneous and surgical tracheostomies in critical care and bed pressures in these units. Hospital wards may lack appropriate infrastructure to care for this vulnerable group and significant patient harm may result.

Objectives To identify and analyse tracheostomy related incident reports from hospital wards between 1 October 2005 and 30 September 2007, and to make recommendations to improve patient safety based on the recurrent themes identified. The study was performed between August 2008 and August 2009.

Methods 968 tracheostomy related critical incidents reported to the National Patient Safety Agency over the 2 year period, identified by key letter searches, were analysed. Incidents were categorised to identify common themes, and root cause analysis attempted where possible.

Results In the 453 incidents where patients were directly affected, 338 (75%) were associated with some identifiable patient harm, of which 83 (18%) were associated with more than temporary harm. In 29 incidents (6%) some intervention was required to maintain life, and in 15 cases the incident may have contributed to the patient's death. Equipment was involved in 176 incidents and 276 incidents involved tracheostomies becoming blocked or displaced.

Conclusions By identifying and analysing themes in incident reports associated with tracheostomies, recommendations can be made to improve safety for this group of patients. These recommendations include improvements in infrastructure, competency and training, equipment provision, and in communication.

  • Patient-safety-incidents
  • tracheostomies
  • hospital
  • wards
  • harm
  • adult intensive and critical care
  • risk management
  • medical education and training
  • head and neck surgery

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