Hospitals and GP surgeries will be subject to a new ‘duty of candour’ following changes introduced by the Health Secretary. Jeremy Hunt announced a series of changes in reaction to the publication of an independent report on the Mid-Staffordshire care scandal. However, whilst the new duty of candour has been welcomed by some, the decision not to extend the obligation to negligent medical professionals who attempt to cover up errors as well has been criticised.
The Francis report published last month followed revelations about deaths of hundreds of patients who were subjected to appalling treatment at the Mid-Staffordshire hospital. Mr Francis suggested that a ‘duty of candour’ be introduced to compel both institutions and individual members of NHS staff to honestly disclose details of their errors and whilst Jeremy Hunt has pursued the institutional obligation, individuals will not be bound by the same duty.
The patient justice charity Action against Medical Accidents has long campaigned for an institutional and individual ‘duty of candour’ and chief executive Peter Walsh had mixed feelings towards the changes. Whilst the absence of an individual duty was met with disappointment, he highlighted that the institutional obligation would be a crucial driver of cultural change in the NHS.
Until now, the NHS has been criticised for its ‘cover-up culture’ and it is hoped that by imposing a ‘duty of candour’ backed up by fines and forced public apologies a culture of disclosure and openness will develop.
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