Unidentified patients should be given ‘randomly generated names’

The risk of misidentification is usually higher when several unidentified patients arrive together such as after an accident, or in mass casualty situations.

James McKay
18 December 2018
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Unidentified patients are to be assigned a randomly generated name, hospital number and an approximate date of birth.

NHS Improvement has said that patients who are unable or unwilling to give their identity should no longer be identified as ‘unknown male’ or ‘unknown female’ as this can increase the chance of clinical errors.

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Often patients attending Emergency Departments are unable or unwilling to give their identity – this may be due to unconscious or critical illness, people with a mental health condition or delirium, and people affected by drink or drugs.

Presently, these patients are usually identified as ‘unknown male’ or ‘unknown female’ and assigned a generic date of birth.

However, an NHS Patient Safety Alert states this system risks the misidentification of these patients when compared to other patients for whom first name and surname, unique NHS number and individual date of birth are all used.

Increased risk of misidentification.

Going on to add that the risk of misidentification is usually higher when several unidentified patients arrive together such as after an accident, or in mass casualty situations.

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The new guidelines state that unidentified patients should now be assigned a randomly generated name, hospital number and given an estimated date of birth.

The regulator suggests NHS organisations randomly generate combinations of first and surnames using the phonetic alphabet, for dates of births combine the 1st of January with an estimated year of birth and temporary hospitals numbers are random rather than sequential.

NHS Improvement states that “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 ABO incompatible blood transfusion.”

The alert states that changes should be implemented by NHS organisations as soon as possible.

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