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Patient safety alert: temporary IDs for unknown patients

20 December, 2018
Confused patient

A&E departments are being required to put a safer temporary identification system in place for unknown or unidentified patients.

Patients who are unable or unwilling to identify themselves should receive a unique identity that will ensure they are treated safely and remove the risk of being confused with other patients.

A Patient Safety Alert issued by NHS Improvement calls on all organisations with emergency departments to create a unique ID system ‘as soon as possible’ and for it to be in place by 5 June 2019.

The alert says, “EDs often care for patients unable or unwilling to give their identity, including people who are unconscious or who have a critical illness, people with a mental health condition or delirium, and people affected by drink or drugs. Several unidentified patients may arrive together after an accident, or in mass casualty situations.

“Giving a unique identity to each unknown patient ensures safe and prompt diagnostic testing and treatment. For example, it helps prevent allocating blood test results to the wrong patient and fatal incompatible blood transfusion.”

It says existing temporary ID systems have ‘high potential for error’.

The alert requires:

  • Edited, randomised phonetic alphabet list for temporary names
  • Randomised temporary number
  • An estimated age
  • (Identification of) actual sex

NHS Improvement has published resources to assist providers to implement the actions required in the alert.

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