The US military hospital system, which cares for the 1.6m active-duty service members and their families, is rife with chronic but avoidable errors, the New York Times has reported.

The military hospital network had a particularly bad record in the areas of maternity care and surgery, the paper said Saturday.

"More than 50,000 babies are born at military hospitals each year, and they are twice as likely to be injured during delivery as newborns nationwide, the most recent statistics show," it said.

It said its examination concluded that "the military lags behind many civilian hospital systems in protecting patients from harm."

The review is based on Pentagon studies, court records, analyses of thousands of pages of data, and interviews with current and former military health officials and workers.

"The most common errors are strikingly prosaic - the unread file, the unheeded distress call, the doctor on one floor not talking to the doctor on another," the Times said.

Grave mistakes

The report pointed to examples of grave but preventable situations.  

We strive to be a perfect system, but we are not a perfect system, and we know it.

 Dr Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs

"A 41-year-old woman's healthy thyroid gland was removed because someone else's biopsy result had been recorded on her chart. A 54-year-old retired officer suffered acute kidney failure and permanent hearing loss after an incorrect dose of chemotherapy," it said.

It also cited a case in which a healthy fetus died because the surgeon performed the operation on the wrong part of the mother's body. 

Meanwhile, in the midst of increasing criticism, defense officials have countered saying military hospitals deliver treatment that is as good, if not better, than civilian hospitals.

"We strive to be a perfect system, but we are not a perfect system, and we know it," Dr Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said.

"We must learn from our mistakes and take corrective actions to prevent them from reoccurring," Woodson added. 

The Times said records showed that mandated safety investigations often went undone, that less than half of reported unexpected deaths inquiries were forwarded to the Pentagon's patient-safety center, and that cases involving permanent harm frequently remained unexamined.

In late May, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a 90-day review of all military hospitals to determine whether they had the same problems recently exposed in the veterans’ health system.

Source: Reuters