The deaths of more than 800 patients treated by the Health Service in Northern Ireland in the last eight years have been linked to safety issues over the care they received, a critical Stormont report has found.
The 813 people experienced or were involved in what health chiefs term a 'serious adverse incident' between 2004 and last year, members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.
Such incidents could include negligent treatment; failure to provide certain care on time or at all; exposure to a major unexpected risk or threat; and the involvement in a violent incident, such as an assault, in a health care setting.
Members stressed that in the majority of cases the deaths were not a direct consequence of clinical mistakes - noting that 488 of the patients are believed to have taken their own lives - but they said the overall toll still raised serious questions.
The committee, which was examining the safety of services provided by the region's health and social care trusts, said there was no tangible evidence that patient safety levels had improved over the last ten years, despite a range of official efforts to tackle the issue.
The PAC report comes six months after the Northern Ireland Audit Office found that the Health Service's bill for settling medical negligence cases in the region in the last five years is set to top £250 million.
Committee members noted that there were around 83,000 so-called 'adverse incidents' per year where a patient could have potentially been harmed. Of those, around 250 were deemed to be 'serious adverse incidents'.
Between July 2004 and March 2012, there were 2,084 serious adverse incidents.
"Eight hundred and thirteen of these involved the death of a patient or service user, including 488 which related to suicides," said PAC chair Michaela Boyle.
"While not all of the serious adverse incidents reported were as a direct result of the care these patients received, the overall figure is still shocking and suggests that the standards of care being delivered by health and social care bodies require continued scrutiny and improvement."