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Clinicians may be forced to apologise for medical negligence

  • 4 Comments

NHS clinicians could in future be made to apologise if patients are harmed due to medical negligence.

The new government proposals, reportedly under discussion, suggest healthcare bosses would be made to adhere to a legal “duty of candour” that would force them to explain and apologise for any errors committed.

Government officials, including chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson and health minister Ann Keen, have already given their support to the proposals, according to the Guardian.

Ms Keen said in a letter to Action Against Medical Accidents that she agrees a “culture of openness and transparency is vital”.

Last year, £807m was paid out to injured parties due to medical negligence.

A recent report published by the Imperial Centre for Patient Safety and Service Quality revealed around a sixth of patients treated by the NHS are misdiagnosed.

Clinical negligence specialist at Kester Cunningham John, Sandra Patton, said litigation would not take place if doctors were more candid and explained what happens if things go wrong.

  • 4 Comments

Readers' comments (4)

  • Mistakes within the health care setting are taking place regularly, and inspite of efforts to train, and re-train, we will still get unexpected unplanned incidents within the NHS.

    The organisation is responsible for patient care as well as training needs of staff who work within it.

    The methods of self regulation employed by the police, and politicians have not worked, and in the health service this mechanism is very flawed.

    Consultants have a lot of power, and no one is brave enough to address the mistakes they make, either as a result of negligence, or of systemic failures.

    The public on the other hand, need to be more pro active about taking their health seriously and do as much as possible to prevent ill health - they should not be led to believe that the NHS is a cure all for all.

    If disease is diganosed early, then we have a chance of treating it successfully, but we are not able to eradicate disease today, because many of them are related to lifestyles.

    It is foolish of the medical profession and politicians to promise absolute guarantees regarding health care - no where else is 100% guarantee achievable, why should we lead our patients to think that care in the NHS is guaranteed to give you absolute good health. If we can change the way we think about death in the western world (ie it is part of the natural life cycle) then we would have less complaints from patients.

    Many patients have an unreasonable expectation of the health service - unfortunately this can only lead to disappointment, for both patients, and relatives.

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  • George Kuchanny

    I agree with Ms Grant's comment entirely. However, the sheer volume of medical errors made on a daily basis is very large indeed. Nobody would fly away on holiday if Aerospace made this many mistakes. 'Off label' prescribing in hospitals is an entirely avoidable cause of many adverse events - some of them catastrophic. Cause? mainly consultant arrogance - they clearly know better than the drug manufacturers it would seem.
    The ability to be candid and actually say "I don't know" when they are unsure should be fostered in consultants. It would go a very long way toward avoidance of frankly asinine errors.
    Very unfortunately my wife was deliberately killed by a nurse and doctor acting in collusion in June 2000. Why? the only reason found to date is that they thought they were covering multiple errors in her care. When she died she was in the process of recovering from a potassium chloride overdose - so they killed her by sedating her and turning off a ventilator. Horrifying? Yes. True? Yes. Why? Nobody wanted to be gently admonished for a mistake so they killed her. (Details are available for scrutiny by anyone who wishes to contest my comment in part or in whole - but be aware that it is contained in 3 filing cabinets full of documentation so perseverance and patience will be required to plough through it all). Lastly, death is a far worse outcome for most of us than quite severe disability, even if we are really old and over the hill, like say, just turned 50, the age of my wife when she was killed nearly 10 years ago - medical profession please note well!

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  • Hi George,

    I am deeply sorry to hear about your tragic loss.

    I believe there needs to be a sea change in the NHS. Instead of trying to cover up errors of judgement, or sytemic failures, when there has been a serious untoward error resulting in the death of a patient, the relatives are left facing a huge obstacle in getting to the bottom of the problem.

    They are faced with a lack of transparency, are fobbed off with excuses, when all they are trying to do is make sense of their unexpected loss.

    Any one who enters a hospital should be aware that anything can go wrong - to foster the idea that life is guaranteed is something we need to address as individuals and as a society, collectively.

    Any admission into a hospital has the potential to go wrong - we should not assume that things will go wrong but be more aware that diagnostic investigations, drugs, treatments all have the potential for causing harm and injury. As westerners we believe in taking drastic action to conquer disease, and many have died to prove my point, that if there is room for error, then mistakes will happen - such is life, no guarantees, except death and taxes.

    The phrase buyer beware, comes to mind. If, like many in Britain you rely on the health service to cure your ills, instead of taking active measures to stay out of hospitals (by leading a reasonably healthy lifestyle) I believe half the battles won.

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  • George Kuchanny

    Dear Anonymous,
    Thank you for your kind words. One of the great problems, simply because it the NHS exists, that it unwittingly and unwillingly generates is a childlike inability to take responsibility for self-care in grown adults, parents and naturally, children. "If I get sick the mighty NHS will spare no expense in putting me right" kind of attitude, The great British public is very much like a child sticking fingers in his/her ears whenever the bogeyman of taking responsibility for your own wellbeing crops up. "The nice doctors and nurses will fix us" they chime (for free! add the mean ones). Well, its not free, and it can only do so much with the best intent in the world. Look at the poor fellow George Best - new organ transplant provided by the unfortunate death of a donor and the work of very skilled nurses and surgeons - what does he do? We all know, carries on boozing, dies horribly.

    I do believe you are being very restrained when you say half the battle, my non-scientific estimate is circa three quarters at least.

    The other problem is that some consultants in particular are afraid of the compensation culture and being seen to get something wrong. Managers support them in fudging over errors for the same reasons and also include the fragility of their empire in their considerations. But then to go on and deliberately kill someone to cover errors? This is quite simply unacceptable. I have spent 10 years digging up the buried truth. I have it mostly now - it is all woolly thinking, blame dodging, trying to look knowledgeable, and even feebler reasons. Unbelievable in sum. You may not quite believe how distressing it is to find out that a doctor and nurse actually killed my wife for such a rag-bag of trivial reasons.

    Thanks again for your kind words anonymous.

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