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Paul Sankey: Stafford hospital death: a failed cover-up

News that no one will be prosecuted after an attempted cover-up at a Stafford Hospital shows why we need a legal duty of candour on all hospital staff.
A patient died at the age of 20 with an undiagnosed ruptured spleen after poor care at Cannock Chase Hospital. X-rays taken had show he'd broken his ribs after a cycling accident but no scan was done to check his spleen. He then died. A Consultant reported that his death was ‘avoidable’ and that care was ‘negligent’. However the Trust Secretary and Head of Legal Services tried to get him to remove these comments so that they would not be mentioned at an Inquest.
She was later sacked. The Crown Prosecution Service has now decided not to prosecute for attempting to pervert the course of justice at the Inquest.
The story shows why we need a legal duty on all hospital staff to be honest and open with patients about mistakes. Although there is a professional duty on doctors to do so, the same does not apply to other staff. In any event the duty is not enforceable.

AvMA (Action against Medical Accidents) and other have been campaigning for such a duty for years. Although the government announced recently that it would fulfil its promise to introduce such a duty it is doing so in a way that is no more than half-hearted, simply introducing a standard term into NHS contracts. This will not give patients any new rights and is unlikely to change a culture where cover-ups are all too common.
Mistakes are made and often no one knows. History then repeats itself because no one learns from the past. This needs to change. We need a duty of candour.

Paul Sankey is a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence.

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