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NHS Ombudsman’s Review Shows Hospitals Breaching Duty of Candour

The recent NHS Ombudsman’s review into the quality of internal inquiries into complaints about avoidable patient harm has warned that too many investigations are “simply not good enough.”

Hospital Hall

An alarming three out of four hospital investigations into complaints that patients suffered avoidable injury or death, failed to identify any serious shortcomings in patient care.

The investigation into healthcare complaints, which was led by Dame Julie Mellor, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, revealed some truly worrying statistics.

Unsurprisingly, following the review, there have been urgent calls for an overhaul into how hospitals manage and investigate serious complaints made against them regarding errors that have led to patients suffering avoidable injuries or even death.

The review found that 20 out of 28 cases failed to even categorise avoidable harm as a ‘serious incident,’ meaning such errors were never properly investigated. Furthermore, a fifth of inquires failed to even gather crucial evidence such as medical records and statements, illustrating a significant failure to take legitimate complaints seriously.

These findings demonstrate that hospital procedures for dealing with serious complaints are still falling woefully short of acceptable. As a result, too many patients and families who need to hear the truth about how and why errors were made in their care are being left without answers.

Dame Mellor said: “Our review found that NHS investigations into complaints about avoidable death and harm are simply not good enough. They are not consistent, reliable or transparent, which means that too many people are being forced to bring their complaint to us to get it resolved.”

Not only do these unacceptably substandard inquiries leave patients with unanswered questions, perhaps more significantly, they go against the Duty of Candour, which imposes a legal duty upon hospitals to be open and honest with patients.

One of the driving forces behind the introduction of this statutory duty was to promote a culture of learning by reporting clinical errors. The Ombudsman’s investigation, however, suggests changes to prevent the repetition of mistakes are being considerably delayed by inadequate internal investigations.

When a patient does suffer unavoidable harm, sometimes all they need is a measure of understanding and an explanation of what went wrong. Sadly, Dame Mellor has made clear that patients who suffer negligence in hospitals are all too often met with a wall of silence from the NHS.

We frequently hear from clients about how difficult it can be for patients to get answers. Many of our clients turn to us after having exhausted the NHS complaints procedure. To not receive any kind of adequate response after repeatedly requesting answers about failures in their own or their loved one’s care goes totally against everything the duty of candour is supposed to represent.

Claire White is a senior clinical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.

The Slater and Gordon clinical negligence team are widely experienced in handling claims related to hospital negligence.

For a free consultation call our medical negligence solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.