Will Robert Francis change the NHS?
The final report of the Inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire Hospital NHS Trust was published yesterday. The report contains the conclusions of the public Inquiry carried out by Robert Francis QC and makes 290 separate recommendations aimed at fundamentally changing a culture that allowed unnecessary suffering and neglect.
The main findings of the report are well known and have been widely reported; in summary there were fatal failings in the way the organisation was managed which potentially contributed towards the deaths of between 400 and 1200 people in Stafford Hospital.
Some of the recommendations will not be news to clinical negligence lawyers. They touch on issues which we hear from speaking to our clients on a regular basis. One of these is that a “duty of candour” should be imposed on NHS staff. It is certainly the case that if a patient has suffered poor treatment at the hands of a trusted medical professional, a lack of explanation or apology compounds the hurt suffered. Very often this is all the patient or family wants but if not offered straightaway, the opportunity is lost. The adversarial court procedure does not allow much in the way of opportunity for this kind of healing. Certainly, we do see apologies and explanations from enlightened Trusts and individuals but they are very rare. Where offered in appropriate cases, they are graciously welcomed by patients and their families.
Another recommendation is that it should be clear who is in charge. This sounds obvious but so often it will not have been obvious to the patient or their family. It is often not clear even when reading the medical records. More importantly, it is vital for the medical professionals to know who is taking the lead role and who has overall responsibility for the patient’s care. It is easy for a vulnerable patient to slip through the gaps when being seen by multiple doctors as well as all the other healthcare specialisms, particularly during a long stay in hospital.
Starting work on implementing the changes proposed in the Report is an onerous task but just these 2 recommendations could make an enormous difference to patients’ experiences.