Is there a fear of litigation?

21st June 2018

Written by Hannah Ashcroft, solicitor at Fletchers.

Today the Health Secretary, Mr Jeremy Hunt, has spoken out on BBC Radio 4 in relation to the hundreds of deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital and said these could have been prevented if whistle blowers had been encouraged to come forward in the NHS.

In his statement, Mr Hunt said,

The basic problem is that if you are a doctor or a nurse and you see something going wrong… the thing that families want if they are bereaved or have a tragedy is to know that the NHS isn’t going to make that mistake again…we make it too hard for doctors and nurses to do that. They are worried that there will be litigation…in some places they are worried they might get fired. So we do have to tackle that blame culture and turn that into a learning culture.

All healthcare professionals have a duty of candour to be open and honest with patients when something goes wrong; apologise to the patient or, where appropriate, their family; offer a remedy or support to put matters right; and explain fully to the patient, the short and long-term effects of what has happened. The duty also requires healthcare professionals to be open and honest with their colleagues and employers.

Unfortunately, we see many instances where the duty of candour has not been adhered to and patients are left without an explanation or understanding of what has happened to them and why, let alone an apology. The majority of our customers seek legal advice as a last resort to obtain answers and to ensure that lessons are learned so that other patients do not suffer the same outcome as them in the future. Indeed many customers say that they would never have made a claim if they had received an apology from the healthcare professional at fault.

It is clear to see that a blame culture would prohibit health professionals feeling able to be open and honest with patients and we would wholeheartedly agree with Mr Hunt’s comments that a learning culture should be encouraged. In cases where the NHS has been transparent regarding mistakes that have been made we have been able to work with the NHS Trust to achieve a quicker resolution for customers without the costs and stress of a lengthy litigation process. We therefore sincerely hope that Mr Hunt does ensure that the culture of blame is eradicated in favour of a learning culture that puts the interests of injured patients first.

For full details of the oral statement given by Jeremy Hunt to the House of Commons on Wednesday 20th June 2018 please here.

If you or loved ones have been affected by any of the issues set out by the findings of the report then a helpline has been set up via the Gosport Independent Panel and can be contacted via the following routes:

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