New duty of candour in hospitals

It will surprise many to learn that at present hospitals in the United Kingdom are not legally bound to be open and honest about patient safety. Although hospitals are expected to be open about their mistakes now, there is no contractual duty to hold them to account when they are not.

However, in light of the inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, new laws are coming into place later this year that will make it a contractual obligation of the Hospital to be open and truthful when mistakes have occurred.

A report, by Robert Francis QC, calls for a ‘duty of candour’ to be imposed on doctors to report incidents that have caused ‘death or serious injury’ as soon as possible. The report also recommends that it should be a criminal offence for a doctor to mislead a patient or relative about any harm that has been caused, or to lie to a regulator or commissioner or obstruct anyone else from raising concerns.

Patients put a great deal of trust and faith in the doctors and nurses and it is unacceptable to think that doctors are not duty bound to inform them when something has gone wrong with their care.  Dr Dan Porter, Health Minister said, “ When mistakes are made, we want them acknowledged, patients informed, and lessons to be learnt”.

While the new obligations imposed on NHS organisations will help to ensure an open and honest culture within the NHS some critics do not think that this goes far enough.

The charity, AvMA (Action against Medical Accidents) attacked the proposal as ‘a mere standard clause in NHS contracts’, which would not cover GPs and dentists. ‘This is in spite of widespread calls for a statutory duty as part of the “Essential Standards of Quality & Safety” regulated by the Care Quality Commission, and an anticipated recommendation for a statutory duty from the Mid Staffordshire Public Inquiry.’ AvMA chief executive Peter Walsh confirmed that AvMA and other patients groups would continue to press for a full statutory duty of candour, Walsh added.

Claire Brophy, Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Swain & Co welcomes the changes to the law and said, “For too long patients have been left to suffer in the dark and second guess the treatment that they received. These changes in the law will help to lift the veil off NHS Organisations and ensure that patients are treated with the respect that they deserve”.

Swain & Co Solicitors are dedicated to helping their clients uncover the truth about their treatment, and if negligent treatment was provided, seek the compensation that they deserve. If you or any one in your family has received substandard treatment from any medical practitioner we urged you to contact us now. From 1 April 2013, changes will come into place which affect the way that Clinical Negligence cases are funded. In light of this we would advise you to contact us now on 02392 48 33 22 or 0800 0351 999.