NHS must admit mistakes to patients

Healthcare providers will be contractually obliged to admit when they have made medical blunders that put patients at risk, it has been announced.

From April next year NHS organisations will be forced to be transparent about breaches of patient safety, said Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter.

The new rules will increase patient confidence, he said. Ensuring staff across the health service are truthful is "crucial" to delivering the highest standards of care, he added.

At present, the NHS is expected to be truthful about mistakes but there is no contractual obligation to stop cover-ups.

Dr Poulter said: "Patients place great faith in the NHS organisations that treat them, and they in turn have a duty to be honest and open about every aspect of care they deliver. When mistakes are made, we want them acknowledged, patients informed and lessons to be learnt.

"The importance of an open culture cannot be underestimated. We expect that Robert Francis will make further recommendations on the duty of candour when the Mid Staffordshire Inquiry is published, and we are committed to taking whatever further action we think is needed as a result.

"But we cannot wait - creating this contractual duty of candour now ensures that NHS contracts for the next financial year will champion patients' rights to basic honesty, as well as safe care."

Peter Walsh, chief executive of the charity, Action Against Medical Accidents or AvMA, said: "This appears to be a cynical attempt by the Department of Health to sidestep overwhelming pressure from patients' groups and others for a statutory duty of candour and pre-empt recommendations from the Mid Staffordshire Inquiry which are likely to recommend a statutory duty.

"No one should be taken in by this. We do not object to a standard clause in NHS trusts' contracts, but what the Government is saying is that it does not see a duty of candour as one of the 'essential standards of quality and safety' which all health organisations need to satisfy in order to be registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

"It clearly should be, as this would give the CQC statutory power to insist upon and enforce it. It is simply wrong to relegate such a fundamental issue to a standard clause in NHS trusts' contracts."

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