The NHS must be open and honest if patient safety is to improve

Hospitals will be legally obliged to be open and honest with patients and their relatives about mistakes that have caused harm or death, under new Duty of Candour legislation. So says the Government in its full response to the recommendations in Robert Francis QC’s report on the failings at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. It also warns that healthcare workers who deliberately neglect or cause harm to patients could be prosecuted and, if found guilty, could face up to five years in prison.

The NHS rates highly on a number of levels and is considered one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Sadly, as we have seen, accidents and mistakes do sometimes happen and, of late, we have been appalled by stories of serious failings in the level of care in some instances. However, what happens after a mistake or breach of duty has occurred can make a big difference in reducing the likelihood of it happening again and causing suffering to others.


Publishing Figures Should Be a Means to an End

From April next year, hospital Trusts in England will be legally required to publish figures on staffing levels on a monthly basis. They will also have to publish quarterly reports detailing the types of complaints they have received and the actions taken to deal with them and a greater proportion of alleged cases of wrongdoing will be investigated by the NHS ombudsman.

These measures have the potential to go some way towards achieving more transparency and, hence, improving safety and restoring public confidence. But, the publishing of figures must be a means to an end, not an end in itself. It should be seen as a key tool for driving change and making improvements to services – otherwise this will simply become another administrative exercise. Being open and transparent isn’t only about figures. It is also about holding your hands up and taking responsibility.


Taking Responsibility is the Key to Change

As medical negligence specialists, we handle claims from people for whom the consequences of a medical error can be devastating. The financial compensation can be vital in enabling families to afford the specialist care or equipment they need to care for, say, a baby who is left with cerebral palsy because of a mistake in the delivery room. But, there is more to it.


Making a claim for medical negligence is not easy for those on the receiving end. It can be both stressful and time consuming and having to fight to get whoever is responsible to admit their part in the mistake only adds to the distress. It can also increase the costs of pursuing the claim due to the extra time it takes and the number of experts required. And, whilst receiving an explanation of what happened and an apology won’t turn the clock back, it is an extremely important part of the healing process for many people.


Learning From Mistakes is the Key to Progress

A real change in culture, based on balancing openness and learning on the one hand, and blame and recrimination on the other (as recommended in the Francis Report) will require the NHS to be a place of safety for patients and staff alike. This will mean staff being able (and willing) to challenge the actions of others and to feel confident about questioning inadequacies in procedures. It will also require management to act swiftly – and without fear of recrimination – on any information they receive that points to areas for improvement. In short, learning from mistakes should be seen as key to progress.


We cannot have a health system where poor levels of care go ignored and must ensure that neglect is not tolerated. Therefore, any measure that encourages a culture of openness and transparency in the NHS is crucial to improving patient safety and should be welcomed. However, we must be watchful and vigilant to make sure that those measures don’t become another set of standalone statistics, but that they are instrumental in bringing about tangible improvements to services and levels of care.


Our specialist medical negligence lawyers handle a range of medical negligence claims from birth injury and surgical errors to inadequacies in nursing care.  If you or a loved one have suffered as a result of mistakes in your healthcare provision, call us on freephone 0808 115 6189 to discuss whether you may have a claim.  See here for a selection of our case studies

Posted 21st November 2013 | Posted in News,Uncategorised