A new law will be introduced in England to ensure nurses who raise concerns are heard in the wake of the Gosport scandal.
The legislation will make it mandatory for all NHS trusts to publish yearly reports about how they handled cases of staff speaking up.
”Nursing staff…were marginalised, and this was the first lost opportunity to prevent so many avoidable deaths”
The plans were announced as part of the government’s response to an independent inquiry into patient deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.
The overprescribing of powerful painkillers between 1987 and 2001 at the Hampshire site resulted in more than 450 people dying prematurely.
In a report published in June, the panel that led the investigation found that nursing staff were the first to raise the alarm about the inappropriate use of opioids, but their concerns were dismissed.
- Nurses who raised concerns about overuse of painkillers at Gosport War Memorial Hospital were ignored, inquiry finds
This week, the department of health and social care acknowledged that lives could have been saved if those nurses were listened to rather than “marginalised”.
In a document outlining its response to the inquiry (see PDF attached), the government said: “The report of the Gosport Independent Panel is a story of opportunities missed and of voices unheard. If those voices had been heard sooner, a great deal of the harm that was suffered at Gosport War Memorial Hospital could have been avoided, and lives could have been saved.
“The panel’s report also illustrates how clinical authority and a culture of hierarchy and silence was used to stifle the voices of staff and families. Nursing staff first raised concerns about the prescribing and administration of drugs in Gosport War Memorial Hospital in 1991. They were marginalised, and this was the first lost opportunity to prevent so many avoidable deaths.
“Healthcare staff need to know that if they take the decision to speak out, their worries will be listened to”
“The report helps us to see that ignoring the voices of patients, families and staff can cost lives; and while the NHS has changed a lot since these events, that basic truth remains valid and important.”
The government said the new law would ensure trusts were “more transparent” about the way they managed cases of staff raising concerns.
Patricia Marquis, director at the Royal College of Nursing, welcomed the announcement.
“As the Gosport Independent Panel report noted, a number of nurses were brave enough to raise concerns about patient care at the hospital almost 30 years ago,” she added.
“Healthcare staff need to know that if they take the decision to speak out, their worries will be listened to.”
The Gosport Independent Panel also highlighted failings by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
The government response noted that the NMC had “changed significantly” since the scandal and had implementing an array of new measures to improve.
“It is important that we continue to learn from past mistakes”
These include a new code of professional standards, a fresh system of revalidation, guidance to help nurses and midwives know when and how to raise concerns and the introduction of a public support service.
The NMC has also changed the way it works with employers and has overhauled fitness to practise procedures, the government said.
It added that the regulator had committed to working with a group of nurses to review the panel’s report to identify the key learning for the profession.
Matthew McClelland, director of fitness to practise at the NMC, said: “The events at Gosport War Memorial Hospital were truly shocking and we want to again pay tribute to the families that have fought tirelessly to understand what happened to their loved ones.
“As recognised in the government’s response, the way we regulate nurses and midwives has changed significantly and improved in recent years, however, we are not complacent.
“It is important that we continue to learn from past mistakes and ensure that patients and their families are at the heart of what we do.”
Mr McClelland said the NMC was working with the police, other regulators and the department of health and social care to take forward the recommendations of the independent panel’s report.