Nurses and midwives who admit to their mistakes could receive less severe sanctions when their case is reviewed by a Nursing and Midwifery Council panel, the health secretary has suggested.
As part of a series of new measures announced this week to improve safety and learning from mistakes in the NHS, Jeremy Hunt said nurses should now receive “credit” from the NMC for being honest about errors during tribunals.
Speaking at the inaugural Global Patient Safety Summit in London, he said that under changes to NMC guidance, when NHS staff admit mistakes and apologise, “a professional tribunal will give them credit for that, just as failing to do so is likely to incur a serious sanction”.
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“Nurses and other health professionals need to know that they will get credit for being open and honest, and the government is committed to legal reform that would allow professional regulators more flexibility to resolve cases without stressful tribunals, where professionals have admitted their mistake,” he told delegates.
The health secretary later told Nursing Times the NHS needed to “move away from the idea that there are going to be automatic professional consequences” if people admit to a “human mistake”.
In an exclusive interview, he said: “Obviously where there is gross negligence, where someone is grossly incompetent, where there is wilful harm, then of course there must be consequences.
“But the vast majority of the time we are talking about is simple mistakes where the priority is to learn from them, and that means we need to create an open culture where people are supported to speak up,” he said.
“Nurses and other health professionals need to know that they will get credit for being open and honest”
Mr Hunt said he had met with both the NMC and the doctors’ regulator the General Medical Council – which will also recognise honesty during tribunals – to discuss how the NHS can improve how it learns from mistakes.
“They have independently concluded the way they will do that is by giving people credit in tribunals for openness and transparency,” he said, adding that it was more than simply “a pat on the back”.
The NMC was asked for further details about how the credit process would work for applying reduced sanctions during tribunals.
In an earlier statement responding to Mr Hunt’s speech, NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith highlighted that it introduced guidance last year on ‘duty of candour’ so healthcare professionals “fully understand their individual responsibilities to speak up, apologise and take action if things go wrong”.
In a subsequent statement for Nursing Times, Ms Smith added: “We launched the duty of candour with the GMC a year ago and set out the clear expectation that nurses and midwives should be open and honest when things go wrong.
“This is embedded in the code. We have advised our fitness to practise team that they should take account of those who apologise and show insight, when deciding what the appropriate outcome should be,” he said. “This has been in place now for over a year.”
Health secretary’s new measures to improve NHS safety and transparency
- Creation of the independent Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch
- legal protection, so called “safe spaces”, for staff giving information following a hospital mistake
- from April 2018, expert medical examiners will independently review and confirm cause of all deaths
- NHS Improvement to publish first annual “learning from mistakes league” to rank openness and transparency among trusts
- Changes to General Medical Council and Nursing and Midwifery Council guidance so when NHS staff are honest about mistakes and apologise, a professional tribunal gives them credit
- NHS Improvement to ask all trusts to publish a charter for openness and transparency so staff have clear expectations of how they will be treated if they witness clinical errors
- NHS England will work with the Royal College of Physicians to develop a standardised method for reviewing the records of patients who have died in hospital
- England to become first country to publish estimates for every hospital trust of avoidable mortality rates