Safety Alerts Insertion of chest drains: summary of a safety report from the National Patient Safety Agency

Tara Lamont, Michael Surkitt-Parr, John Scarpello(A), Marcus Durand, Clare Hooper, Nick Maskell

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorial (Academic Journal)peer-review


Chest drains are often used in the medical management of pleural effusions and pneumothorax. However, the real risks of chest drains are not fully recognised.1 Over three years (January 2005 to March 2008) healthcare staff reported 12 deaths and 15 cases of severe harm from chest drain insertion to the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) in England and Wales. True rates of harm to patients are likely to be substantially higher, given that healthcare staff are known to under-report incidents (as is the case with other voluntary reporting systems).2

Incidents were reported to the agency from a range of settings, including general wards, accident and emergency departments, medical admission units, and intensive care. A typical incident report reads: “Right-sided chest drain inserted into patient. Couldn’t find complete chest drain kit on ward. Tip of drain seen within right lobe of liver. No record of ultrasound performed. Liver injury incurred and patient sent to ITU [intensive therapy unit].”

This summary is based on a safety report (known as a “rapid response report” or “RRR”) from the NPSA on the risks of chest drain insertion, with key actions for staff.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberb4923
Pages (from-to)-
Number of pages3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2009

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