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Clinical Negligence Solicitor Paul Sankey on the need for a Duty of Candour

News that NHS staff at Leighton Hospital in Crewe lied to the parents of a still-born baby to cover up their mistakes underline the need for a duty on NHS staff to be open and honest with patients – a ‘duty of candour’.

It took an investigation by the Ombudsman to establish that managers from the Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had misled the parents. The Trust, having already paid £30,000 in damages to the parents was then required to pay a further £1,000 as compensation for the injustice caused by its maladministration.
After years of campaigning by Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) and others, the UK Government has agreed to establish a weakened form of a ‘duty of candour’. Their proposal is however only to ensure that bodies contracting to work for the NHS are honest and open to the NHS. There is still no duty to patients or their families, particularly governing administrators and managers.
In one of the worse cases I have ever dealt with a 40 year old man was left paralysed and brain-damaged, unable to work and dependent on 24 hour care after inexcusable Medical Negligence. In response to a written complaint the NHS Trust sent a long and confusing response saying that if the same happened again they would do nothing different. The letter was a transparent attempt to cover up mistakes and to dissuade the patient from seeking Clinical Negligence Compensation. Had he believed it he would not now be living in adapted accommodation with a live-in 24 carer, having recovered damages of nearly £5m to meet the enormous cost of his disabilities.
Unless hospitals are frank about mistakes they will not learn lessons from them. The same mistakes will be repeated and patients will suffer. The cover-up at Leighton Hospital is a wake-up call to tell us what we should already know: we need a legally enforceable duty for NHS staff to be open and honest about mistakes – a duty of candour.

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Paul Sankey is a Clinical and Medical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

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