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NHS may have to own up to errors that kill or harm patients

I was interested to read that the Department of Health is considering imposing a legally binding “duty of candour” on the NHS to declare when staff mistakes injure or kill patients. The duty would, apparently, ensure NHS managers admit to patients when an error has led to harm, as well as having to explain exactly what has gone wrong and apologise. Although I don’t want to appear cynical and am all for honesty and integrity I can’t help wonder how the DoH plans to enforce this and who will determine whether a mistake leading to injury or death has been made. It is rarely a simple matter to determine whether, for example, a baby born with cerebral palsy, would have been born healthy if the labour and delivery had been managed differently and, if he or she would have been born healthy if the labour and delivery had been managed differently, whether the precise cause of the injury amounted to a “mistake”. These are big, difficult questions and it can take a whole range of medico-legal experts – obstetric, midwifery, neonatal, cardiology, neurology to answer them. I can’t see that a duty of candour will do away with our civil justice system just yet.

Jo is a Partner specialising in catastrophic personal injury and clinical negligence claims.

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