NHS – A Culture Of ‘Zero Harm And Compassionate Care’? Probably Not.

Is the government’s response to the Francis enquiry sufficient? Will it achieve the foundations for a culture “of zero harm and compassionate care”? At Express Solicitors, we think not.

The Francis enquiry was the government initiated enquiry into the scandal of unnecessary deaths at Stafford DG Hospital that has for years attracted press attention. An enquiry that responded to overwhelming public dissatisfaction…but is it political “fluff” or actually backed by any substance?

Every government and every political party aspiring to government has a vested interest in NHS issues. They do not want the headlines that we are becoming used to, setting out yet another story of poor standards, understaffing and under resourcing in the NHS.

So, the key political question is what can be done to appease public concern without exacerbating the fundamental NHS issue – funding – or lack of it? And the answer is yesterday’s government response. It sounded good and resonated with a public awash with anxiety about its NHS encounters. However, knowledgeable commentators are taking it with a “pinch of salt”. The government objective is to prevent another scandal but the initiatives discussed are not the right way to achieve grass roots improvement.

Naming and shaming failing trusts will only encourage a downward spiral. Shamed trusts will not be able to attract good staff and since great staff are the key attribute of any business the trust will be unable to improve. It will also encourage anxiety and distrust in the patients.

A Duty of Candour (also known as Robbie’s Law), is a long overdue idea but not one that is likely to be implemented with gusto anytime soon, in our respectful submission. It was first suggested by Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer, in his report Making Amends in 2003. In the ensuing decade successive governments have successfully avoided embracing and implementing the issue, despite what appears to be a clear and irrefutable case for it. In 2005, the National Audit Office reported only 24% of NHS trusts regularly advised patients of safety incidents and 6% never advised patients. In 2006, The Department of Health accepted the existence of a ‘culture of denial’ in the NHS. In 2009, the House of Commons Health Committee recommended a legal Duty of Candour. Yet, nothing has been done and at Express we are not confident that the previous history of evasion will significantly change now. The cross party political background is a fear that candour will increase complaints and claims and that will affect budgets. There are an estimated 1 million patient safety incidents in English hospitals each year, 50% of which are estimated to cause avoidable harm. At present the NHS receives about 6,000 clinical negligence claims each year at a huge cost. Just think of the political implications if 6000 spiralled to 1 million claims for compensation.

The key to successful implementation of a Duty of Candour is staff acceptance and there are presently significant fears amongst staff allied to whistleblowing fears and concerns of career progression following an admission. Those are deep routed issues that won’t be dealt with by a public announcement. Hence, we consider that whilst the announcement is a good start there is much progress to be made to achieve cultural acceptance long before implementation is rolled out.

Finally, it seems to us that the recommendation of Francis could be the key to success of other articulated goals that has been ignored. That is the recommendation for increased staffing levels. More staff are demanded by patients and professionals alike. Dr. Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing has been quoted as saying ”greater numbers of staff result in better healthcare.” Without more and better trained staff all the other proposals will fail and the opportunity that Stafford presented to achieve whole scale change will be lost.

If you have suffered unnecessarily due to Clinical Negligence, please feel free to contact us today on 0800 158 5274, for free legal advice and help with your claim.

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