Two developments this week, both to do with care and dignity in healthcare, will leave patients better off but we are still far from ‘job done' with patient safety.
The General Medical Council (GMC) today set out clear guidelines instructing NHS staff to adopt an increased sense of responsibility in their work. As a result of the new procedures, doctors and nurses will have to admit when they have made a mistake and apologise to patients if they are harmed or distressed.
Under separate guidance from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC), every patient will now have a designated named doctor and nurse taking responsibility for their progress. As well as an increased sense of accountability, the initiative will ensure there is a constant primary point of contact who is fully up to speed on a patient's care.
Prompted by the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust scandal in the late 2000s, both sets of guidelines will increase transparency in the NHS, with one of the key recommendations of Robert Francis QC's review of the Mid Staffordshire incident, namely identifying the clinician accountable throughout a patient's treatment, now becoming a reality.
The guidelines are a good example of the medical profession stepping up efforts to weed out both bad practice and prevent incidents from initially occurring. Patients in care often already feel vulnerable without the added worry that something could go wrong and leave them in a worse position than before they were ill.
Yet we are far from ‘job done'. More needs to be done to ensure those whose treatment was below par aren't further victimised during potential legal proceedings.
Comments earlier this week from Stuart Poynor, CEO of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership, are an example of the attitude needed to make progress. Talking to the Law Society Gazette, Poynor pledged commitment to admitting liability as early as possible, taking a new ‘pro-active' approach to claims handling. Rather than doubt claims, he outlined that the NHS should believe what complainants are saying. The implementation of these guidelines will encourage more practitioners to take this approach.
In the past, NHS staff have been reluctant to apologise out of fear of admitting liability. This has in turn acted as a barrier to justice for those patients who are victim to medical negligence.
Although just a first step, today's guidelines will ensure three key things: patients will have more confidence that someone is taking responsibility for them; they will have a point of contact if they feel something should be done differently, and they will be offered a more thorough explanation - and an apology - if something were to go wrong.