Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced this weekend radical new plans to break through the “cover-up culture” within the NHS; including protection for whistle-blowers lifting the lid on mistakes by medical staff.
The announcement comes at a time when around 12,000 deaths per year are caused by medical errors or failure of doctors and nurses to adequately monitor patient. Using the examples of airliner safety, Mr Hunt believes that the key to driving down negligent deaths is encouraging a whistleblowing culture under which hospital staff will be encouraged to speak out about errors, exposing weaknesses in the system and taking action to prevent reoccurrence.
Mr Hunt’s policy follows an in-depth enquiry into the thousands of deaths at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2009 due to poor care. That enquiry has led to a range of investigations into the NHS’ management of incidents which have revealed that around a 1/3 of investigations have been inadequate and fail to address the risks to future patients. The investigation into Stafford Hospital revealed that numerous attempts had been made by staff to raise concerns about the practices at the hospital, but that these were all suppressed; encouraging deathly practices amongst its staff.
Chris Thorne, Partner in Clarke Willmott’s specialist Clinical Negligence team, has said “Clarke Willmott have received a record number of instructions in clinical negligence claims over the last 18 months. Many clients come to us because they are dissatisfied with the investigations provided by hospitals, which are often suggestive of cover ups and self-justification. The NHS spend millions of pounds a year on clinical negligence claims, and that number could be substantially reduced by the NHS not only reducing the number of unnecessary deaths with better care and monitoring, but also by being open and honest with patients about mistakes and engaging with making improvements. An honest explanation is frequently all my clients are seeking”.
Mr Hunt’s policy change will introduce annual reviews of all NHS Trusts, focusing on the identification and management of risks of substandard practice and hospital deaths. Protection will be given to staff who raise concerns about avoidable deaths and poor care and medical treatment, although details of how this policy will be managed are yet to be released. Mr Hunt has also called for a manual review of 2,000 random hospital deaths to assess how mortality rates could be driven down across the country.