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Are hospital’s being honest about medical errors?

The duty of candour was introduced for all NHS bodies in November 2014, in this article Sara Westwood considers the impact.


The duty of candour was introduced for all NHS bodies in November 2014 and to all other care providers registered with the CQC (Care Quality Commission) in April 2015. It conveys a duty on hospital, community and mental health trusts to inform and apologise to patients if there have been mistakes in their care that have led to significant harm. The aim is to help patients receive accurate and truthful information about what happened.

Is it working in practice? Feedback from clients indicates a mixed bag. Some are proactive, open and honest in a timely way. Some, unfortunately, are not. Clients have said to me the hospital/GP delayed, fobbed them off or would only provide limited information. Many of these clients also told me that had the hospital/GP responded to their complaint in an open, honest and timely manner, and apologised, they would not have considered seeking legal advice. A recently reported case illustrates the problem well. Deborah O’Hara had a kidney removed during the course of which the blood supply to two arteries was cut off. Sadly she died and her death was reported to the Coroner. The hospital failed however to inform the coroner of the surgical error which resulted in the damage to the arteries. The error only became known after a tip-off to the BBC. One would hope this is an extreme, and isolated, example but not only was there a lack of openness by the hospital it seems they tried to conceal what happened. The full article can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-coventry-warwickshire-37365233

My own view is that medical bodies are cottoning on to the Duty of Candour but too slowly and inconsistently. A simple apology goes a long way and may help to reduce claims against NHS bodies.

MJP has been specialising in personal injury and clinical negligence claims for over 30 years and if you think we may be able to help, then Sara Westwood is a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence and accredited with the Law Society, AVMA and Association of Personal Injury Lawyers as a Senior Litigator. Should you wish to be advised, then call for a free consultation on 01603 877000 or contact us online.

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