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Chief executive of NHS Trust pledges a new approach to Clinical Negligence Claims

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    Information on planned reforms to how a Staffordshire NHS Trust will deal with clinical negligence claims and the implications for patients.

    By Kerstin Kubiak

Mr Stuart Poynor, Chief Executive of Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Partnership NHS Trust spoke to the Law Society Gazette in June 2014 to explain the new approach by his Trust to clinical negligence claims.  Mr Poynor described a new proactive approach to the investigation and management of cases, so as to avoid delays and protracting the suffering of patients or their families. This is of course a welcome new approach and should also aid in the reduction of legal costs.

Mr Poynor spoke to legal journalist John Hyde [1] about his planned new approach to handing medical negligence complaints and cases. Mr Poynor is the Chief Executive of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership NHS Trust. This Trust is the UK’s largest provider of community health and adult social care services and is responsible for adult social and community healthcare within Staffordshire and community healthcare in Stoke-on-Trent.

Mr Poynor stated that he did not want the trust to ‘defend the indefensible’ and instead would take a ‘pro-active’ approach to claims handling. The Gazette reported that: “Poynor said he has convinced the Trust’s board to agree to a commitment to admitting liability as early as possible….’If I am reading a case and signing a complaint apology and see that we’ve let you down, if I then find that person is eligible to claim I cannot see morally how we can get involved in something that drags out over a 12 month period.”

Duty of Candour

It is fantastic to note that this Trust seeks to adopt an attitude of ‘openness and transparency’ in their complaints procedures. This is fully in line with the Duty of Candour as recommended in the Francis report [2], which noted a requirement that there is:

‘The volunteering of all relevant information to persons who have or may have been harmed by the provision of services, whether or not the information has been requested and whether or not a complaint or a report about that provision has been made.’

‘Prompt apologies and explanations, with a reassurance they will not reoccur, may prevent a claim being brought at all.’

The Health Secretary has now agreed to implement written guidelines as to the Duty of Candour regarding medical complaints. There will now be statutory requirements within the Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulations. The consultation process ended in April 2014 and it is hoped the new guidance will be implemented in October 2014.

Cultural Change

Mr Poynor has appointed an ‘Ambassador for Cultural Change’ in his Trust to assist in handling patient complaints about medical treatment received.  Helene Donnelly has been appointed to this role, who was one of the key whistle blowers from the Stafford Hospital, which was under intense scrutiny as part of the Francis report.

Our Reaction

As clinical negligence lawyers we frequently speak with patients who are further distressed and angered because they cannot get any answers from the Hospital or medics involved in their care.  Litigation of a clinical negligence claim is then commenced and often Trusts will actively defend claims which appear to be indefensible, which only serves to cause further distress and anger to the patient as well as increased legal costs when the claims are ultimately successful.

This fresh approach to resolving patient concerns in Staffordshire is one which many Trusts should consider and adopt and we hope that patients will reap the benefits. The Francis report correctly noted that with better handling of patient complaints the number of subsequent clinical negligence claims is likely to decrease as patients or their families will have a much better understanding of events, and feel their concerns were heard and changes made and may be less likely to take a further step of litigation and seeking financial compensation.

If you have any concerns about medical treatment you have received please contact me or one of my colleagues for further advice as to your options.

1.The Law Society Gazette, 9 June 2014, page 4
2. The Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, Public Enquiry, Chaired by Robert Francis QC, February 2013

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