The vital signs of acutely ill patients in hospital are monitored so that appropriate care can be given if their condition deteriorates.

Vital signs recorded include:

  • heart rate

  • respiratory rate

  • systolic blood pressure

  • level of consciousness

  • oxygen saturation

  • body temperature.

A retrospective case record review of 1000 adults who died in 2009 in 10 acute hospitals in England judged that 52 of these deaths (5.2%) were preventable (Hogan et al. 2012). The main factor associated with the preventable deaths was clinical monitoring, including: the failure to act upon results of tests or clinical findings; failure to set up and respond to monitoring systems; or failure to increase the intensity of care when needed. The NHS database of patient safety incidents recorded over 2000 preventable deaths in adult NHS patients in England from 1 June 2010 to 31 October 2012 (Donaldson et al. 2014). Again, the main factor associated with these preventable deaths was mismanagement of patient deterioration, which accounted for 35% of these deaths. Mismanagement included failure to act on or recognise deterioration, failure to give ordered treatment or support in a timely way, and failure to observe patients' vital signs.