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28 March 2014 / legal-blog
A blog article by Jonathan White
I blogged last week on the urgent need for reform around candour in the NHS to ensure that patients are well-informed about all elements of their care and treatment and healthcare professionals are open and honest to those in their care.
This week’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, to introduce a duty of candour across NHS organisations is a great result for patients and families who have suffered due to medical errors in the NHS. Hunt’s announcement, made in a speech at the Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, is in line with the suggested changes recommended in the recent report by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS).
The report found that the current system for reporting medical malpractice or errors in the NHS did not go far enough and a duty of candour should be applied to NHS organisations in all cases of significant harm covering moderate and severe harm and errors resulting in death. Almost 100,000 incidents a year will now be recorded which wouldn’t have been before, a figure which, in combination with the other proposals in Hunt’s speech, could lead to up to 6,000 lives being saved.
In his announcement Hunt outlined how NHS organisations can work together to improve patient safety, revise the duty of candour threshold and deliver cost efficiencies for the NHS. The location of the speech was significant, as the Virginia Mason Hospital is regarded as one of the safest in the world, as a result of reforms which were put in place following a case of gross medical negligence ten years ago.
Hunt said “it is my clear ambition that the NHS should become the safest healthcare system anywhere in the world,” and went on to outline the need to empower staff and re-invest money in patient care in order to fundamentally prevent avoidable harm. As part of the changes, NHS organisations will be invited to ‘sign up to safety’ and publicly outline their plans to reduce avoidable harm and reduce the costs of harm by half over the next three years.
The overarching aim of these changes is to tackle the root of the problem, not simply to achieve transparency in the reporting of avoidable incidents. Under the initiative, the Government also plans to recruit 5,000 ‘safety champions’, appointed from hospital staff to identify where there is unsafe care and develop solutions to solve it. A new Safety Action for England (SAFE) team will also be created to tackle unsafe care in NHS organisations.
If successful in implementing the proposed changes, the NHS Litigation Authority will allow participating hospitals to reduce their premiums. However, the call for the NHS to take action against such bad practice goes beyond the financial implications. As Hunt outlines, a strong reporting culture where safety incidents are reported and monitored is essential to creating a safer NHS. For too long health organisations have been able to hide the truth and as a result are less likely to learn from mistakes made.
A lack of honesty can lead to further unnecessary pain and suffering; an unsuccessful search for answers can add insult to injury when something goes wrong. Hunt’s announcement signifies a major advancement in patient’s rights and safety and is a welcome move to those patients who have felt failed by the NHS.
At National Accident Helpline, we strive to empower victims to seek the justice they deserve, and the secretary of state’s willingness to do the same is welcome.
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