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Clinical Negligence Solicitor Paul Sankey on Staffordshire and Lincolnshire: The NHS needs a change of culture

2 NHS Trusts have been in the news during the last few days. Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust was heavily criticised by Robert Francis’ Inquiry for its failure to promote patient safety. Now United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust is under scrutiny following comments by its former Chief Executive that he was ‘gagged’ to prevent him disclosing a policy to abandon government targets for non-emergency care. Robert Francis has criticised the use of such gagging clauses. The Trust has recently been identified as having high patient death-rates.
 
One common theme to both stories is a defensive culture which prefers secrecy to openness. At Mid Staffordshire there was a culture of protecting the Trust’s reputation rather than investigating and learning from patient errors. The problem may have been worse in Staffordshire than in some hospitals but the same culture persists across the NHS. I have seen numerous responses to written complaints where hospitals have simply not been frank with patients in admitting where they have made mistakes. Not only is this wrong from the point of view of the individual patient – who is entitled to know when things have gone wrong – but increases the risk of the same happening again. The first step to improving care is working out where care has gone wrong in the first place.
 
Many people experience excellent care in our hospitals. However the government’s own research suggests that a shockingly high 1 in 10 suffer avoidable accidents. Not all cause harm but some do and at times that harm can be serious. In some of the worse cases we deal with people have suffered disabling strokes, Amputations or even in some cases died. We desperately need a culture of openness and honesty in our hospitals for care to improve. The news from Lincolnshire only highlights this need.

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