LEGAL EAGLE: NHS must disclose mistakes

Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt.
Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has launched a new voluntary compensation scheme for parents whose babies are damaged at birth.

Mr Hunt pledged that the NHS will learn lessons from its mistakes, and insisted that the scheme would help create a culture where NHS staff can speak more openly.

Parents will be able to join a voluntary “rapid resolution and redress” scheme if they believe medical errors have caused their children to develop severe conditions such as cerebral palsy or brain damage.

Mr Hunt in a recent interview said: “We make it very difficult for doctors and midwives and nurses, when things go wrong, to do the one thing they really want to do more than anything else, which is to learn from their mistakes so that they can spread those lessons across the whole NHS.”

My response to that is the NHS already has the information to share. In the UK there are more still births each year than in 20 wealthy countries around the world yet the NHSLA set up decades ago which handles claims against the NHS for negligence was commissioned with gathering information to allow learning to take place to prevent mistakes repeating themselves.

After much pressure from patient safety groups last year Mr Hunt introduced a contractual “duty of candour” on the medical profession to disclose failings in care where harm was caused. However, the experience of many patients who have sought help of legal professionals to investigate concerns is that Health Trusts are often aware of failings and yet they are not complying with the duty of candour and notifying the patient or family affected. Surely, this is where Mr Hunt needs to start.

My fear is the new proposals leaving the Department of Health will effectively remove this duty in many cases as they provide a “safe space” within which health professionals disclosure will often not be shared with patients and families.

Learning from mistakes, is of course, something we all hope to do but removing the requirement to disclose such mistakes is not in my view any way to go about it and will have the opposite result Mr Hunt is apparently seeking.

His other stated reason for the proposal is to save the Government money in therefore not having to deal with litigated claims by those affected by life changing injuries.

If lessons are truly learnt with the information the NHS already has then those costs will fall and the still birth rate in the UK will be where it should be….. well inside the top 20 in the world.

l Ben Hoare Bell LLP has specialist Medical Negligence Solicitors that can assist with claims of medical or dental negligence. To speak to a Solicitor please phone Ben Hoare Bell on 0191 565 3112 or email advice@benhoarebell.co.uk. Visit www.benhoarebell.co.uk for more information.