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‘Never events’ in dentistry

15th May 2018

Written by Hannah Ashcroft, medical negligence solicitor at Fletchers. 

Medical negligence lawyers have long been familiar with the concept of ‘never events’, namely incidents that simply should not occur but for the care delivered falling below the standard of a responsible medical practitioner. Medical never events have been agreed and published by the NHS for years; examples include surgery on the wrong site, scalding of patients and retention of foreign objects following a procedure. In such cases there is rarely a dispute over breach of duty, which allows us as Claimant lawyers to work with the Defendant NHS Trusts to achieve a resolution for injured patients as quickly as possible.

Until recently there had been no such agreement or consensus on ‘never events’ in dentistry. Consequently, dental claims have often been unnecessarily prolonged by arguments over liability which has led to increased costs and avoidable delays in compensating the injured party. This can have a huge impact on Claimants as dental negligence often results in a requirement for private dental treatment to be undertaken. Private dental treatment is a cost which many injured Claimants are unable to fund themselves and are therefore dependent upon liability being resolved and compensation being recovered to allow them to undergo the necessary treatment and move on with their lives.

The British Dental Journal has recently published an article identifying 15 never events in dentistry based on international expert consensus.

The 15 never events identified are as follows

  1. Breaking the patient’s jaw
  2. Pulling out the wrong tooth
  3. Treating the wrong patient
  4. Injecting the wrong anaesthetic
  5. Injuring the patient’s eye, due to the omission of appropriate eye protection
  6. Leaving foreign objects behind in the patient after surgical procedures
  7. Inhalation by patient of ‘foreign objects’
  8. Failing to sterilise instruments
  9. Failure to register patient’s history of allergies to medication
  10. Use of dental material in a patient with known history of allergy to the dental material used
  11. Prescription of a drug to a patient with a known allergy to the drug
  12. Reusing disposable items instead of throwing them away
  13. Failure to refer for oral cancer assessment after patient’s lesions do not heal after 2 weeks of receiving treatment
  14. Failure to implement oral cancer screening as part of the routine assessments
  15. Prescribing incorrect medication to children

I am pleased that the dentistry industry has now recognised the need for industry wide standards and consistent approaches which I trust will improve patient care. I hope that this not only leads to a reduction in ‘never event’ incidents taking place, but also that the list enables claims arising out of such incidents to be resolved much quicker and at a more proportionate cost than they currently are.



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