By Helena Wood, Clinical Negligence Team Supervisor and Chartered Legal Executive at Hudgell Solicitors.
The message couldn’t be any clearer – there will be no excuses for NHS Trusts covering up their errors. They must be open and honest with patients or their families when things go wrong that can cause harm.
The Duty of Candour, introduced last month, is to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) with severe, even possibly criminal, sanctions available for those failing to comply.
Hopefully, the result will not only be a more transparent health service, but ultimately an improved one where errors are not swept under the carpet but studied and reviewed, lessons are learned, and improvements are continually made.
At Hudgell Solicitors, as specialists in handling cases of clinical negligence, we have long called for greater honesty and transparency for patients and their families.
All too often, when serious and avoidable mistakes are made, families face hugely complicated complaints processes when they look for answers, which invariably are not forthcoming.
Not only has this caused gross injustice and harm, but it has meant the NHS has continued to fail to learn lessons to improve patient safety.
With the Duty of Candour already applying to all NHS trusts in England, and extending next April to cover GPs and other primary care practitioners, private healthcare, and social care providers registered with the CQC, Peter Walsh, Chief Executive of Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) has described it as ‘the biggest advance in patient safety and patients’ rights in the history of the NHS’.
However, it will only be truly effective if the Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulates it properly and ensures that it holds all Trusts to account.
Great credit must go the families who have fought for this important change of law, none more so than Will Powell, who campaigned for 24 years for such a law after cover ups into the negligent treatment – and subsequent death – of his 10-year-old son Robbie.
In Robbie’s tragic case, GPs had suspected he may be suffering from Addison’s disease but simply failed to act. Notes of those suspicions were then subsequently removed from all paperwork after Robbie’s death.
This new duty is quite rightly being called Robbie’s Law, in recognition of his father’s determined campaign.
But this is not a law only in memory of Robbie, but one for all who suffer from treatment below the standard expected from our health service.