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Duty of candour moves closer with bill amendment

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The government has paved the way for the introduction of a duty of candour through an amendment to the Care Bill – but the key question of when the duty would apply has been left open.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced plans to introduce a statutory duty of candour on organisations in the government’s initial response to the Francis report in March. Its full response is expected later this year.

Yesterday, the government proposed an amendment to its Care Bill in order to create a legislative pathway to allow it to introduce the duty of candour.

If passed, the amendment will compel ministers to introduce secondary legislation to make the “provision of information” when an incident “affecting a person’s safety” occurs a condition of registration with the Care Quality Commission. 

Health and social care providers must be registered with the CQC in order to legally provide services and the regulator has the power to prosecute organisations for a breach of their standards.

The amendment, moved by health minister Earl Howe, leaves it to the secondary legislation to specify which kind of incidents the duty would apply to – for example whether it would only apply in cases where a mistake has led to death or permanent disability or more widely.

Peter Walsh, chief executive of Action Against Medical Accidents which has been campaigning for a statutory duty of candour for 30 years, welcomed the amendment.

However, he said the charity remained concerned the duty would not apply in enough circumstances to lead to real openness.

The pressure group, which supports a duty of candour on individuals as well as organisations, will also be lobbying for the secondary legislation to include a requirement on organisations to discipline staff who were found to have concealed information from patients.

Mr Walsh said: “We want the statutory duty on organisations to include a requirement for organisations to do everything they can to address what has gone wrong, including taking the appropriate action be it disciplinary or referral to a regulatory body.”

A duty of candour on both organisations and individual members of staff was recommended by the Francis report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust. It is also one of the aims of the Speak Out Safely campaign, launched by Nursing Times in March.

The government has previously stated that it wants a duty of candour to apply to trust boards but had not signalled whether it would extend it to individuals.

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