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19 March 2014 / legal-blog
A blog article by Jonathan White
A review by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) on enhancing candour in the NHS concluded last week that a new statutory duty of candour around patient care should be applied to all health and care mistakes that cause even ‘moderate harm’, which would extend the duty to an additional 85,000 incidents each year.
The review was commissioned by the Government in response to the inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which found that hundreds of hospital patients died needlessly as a result of substandard care and staff failings between January 2005 and March 2009. The impact of the introduction of a duty of candour on all healthcare organisations cannot be underestimated.
The measure, if embraced by the NHS across the board, could be one of the most important developments for enhanced patient care and safety, helping to foster an increased sense of honesty, transparency and openness in the healthcare sector. Under the initiative, healthcare organisations will be required to disclose any unanticipated errors causing patient harm above a certain threshold, ensuring individuals feel empowered to be able to seek access to justice. Reform around candour in the NHS is urgently needed.
NHS ambulance trusts have also been accused of encouraging a culture of secrecy around malpractice in patient care. A paramedic from Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust was recently struck off following an inquest into a girl’s death. The mother of the girl was, however, not informed about the negligence or the inquest into her daughter’s death.
Worryingly, this is not an isolated incident, with other similar cases reported where ambulance services have kept details of paramedic misconduct from the families of dead patients. NHS organisations have a moral obligation to inform patients and families when something goes wrong.
National Accident Helpline (NAH) welcomes the review by the RCS as a means of increasing transparency and openness in the NHS with regard to patient errors. We believe that patients should be well-informed about all elements of their care and treatment and that healthcare professionals must be open and honest to those in their care.
When medical errors occur, patients and their families should be told honestly what has happened and what can be done to deal with any harm caused. It should also be made clear what measures will be implemented to prevent the mistake reoccurring. People value the service they receive from the NHS and other clinicians, but patients who have suffered from medical negligence have a right to get their life back as far as it is possible.
Recognition from healthcare organisations where and when something has gone wrong can help ensure patients feel confident about seeking compensation for genuine claims to help relieve any financial pressure associated with the injury, as well support to cope with life-changing circumstances. The Government is expected to announce these changes in the coming weeks, which will be a welcome development for many patients who failed to receive the highest level of patient care whilst being cared for within the NHS.
However, for the initiative to be effective, it is crucial that the duty of candour is on a statutory footing and has teeth to deliver real change for patients.
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