Hunt to reject law forcing NHS staff to blow whistle

Health secretary, Jeremy Hunt is set to reject a recommendation from the Francis Inquiry. The recommendation was to introduce a law forcing NHS staff to blow the whistle over care.

The Francis Inquiry came as a result of the hundreds of deaths of patients at Stafford Hospital.

Mr Hunt will accept the need for a statutory duty of candour in the NHS, which was recommended by Robert Francis, QC.

A duty of candour is a legal obligation to admit to medical mistakes.

However, it is understood that this duty will only apply to hospitals, not to individual employees, exposing NHS trusts to prosecution for failing to inform patients and their families of harm caused by medical negligence and poor care.

Graeme Swain, managing partner of Swain & Co has campaigned for doctors to have a duty to admit to mistakes, similar to the legal obligation Solicitors have to admit to theirs.

Graeme says, “We welcomed the recommendation by Mr Francis to hold all staff accountable for failings in care as we believe that this would drive up standards across the NHS.”

“The NHS has an ingrained culture of secrecy that needs addressing. But, the government appears to be paying lip service and watering down recommendations on the topical issue of care standards in the NHS.”

The Coalition’s formal response to be given to Mr Hunt in the Commons on Tuesday is likely to reject the recommendation that it should be a criminal offence for registered medical practitioners and nurses to withhold information from patients or their relatives concerning serious injury or death.

The Health Secretary has been persuaded that the threat of criminal prosecution for colleagues found guilty of compromising patient safety may deter whistleblowers rather than encourage openness and transparency.

The plans favoured by the Department of Health would see hospitals have a duty of candour to inform patients or relatives of serious failings as soon as possible and respond to requests for further information.

The responsibility for ensuring that hospital trusts comply will rest with the Care quality Commission.

Trusts found guilty of breaking the law will face large fines and may be stripped of their authorisation to run a hospital.

Graeme comments, “It is frustrating that the government has a clear opportunity and call to action over the scandal rocking the NHS, but they are choosing not to take the strongest action.”

“I believe that medical staff and doctors, in particular, should be subject to a clear professional obligation to admit mistakes.”