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The final report on the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust scandal was published at the beginning of the year and openly supports calls for ‘Robbie’s Law’ imposing criminal charges on healthcare providers who are not honest and open with patients and their families about failures which have lead to serious harm or death. As medical negligence solicitors we support this recommendation and consider it is long overdue.
The Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry by Robert Francis QC is the last of the formal investigations into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust scandal. The report recommends amendments to the NHS Constitution and introducing statutory obligations on healthcare providers to be honest and open about their failures. This has been long campaigned for by AvMA (Action against Medical Accidents) and is known as “Robbie’s Law” after Robbie Powell, whose family were kept in the dark about the true circumstances of his death in 1990.
As clinical negligence lawyers we often hear from patients and their families that even if the eventual outcome could not have been changed, the trauma they experienced could have been reduced had the doctors and nurses involved been honest about the incident from the start. We are therefore incredibly supportive of imposing a duty of candour as we have seen the monumental difference it can make to the lives of patients and families affected by NHS mistakes and negligent hospital treatment.
Robbie’s Law, which is formally referred to as a legal ‘duty of candour’ would make it a criminal offence for the healthcare provider or individual doctor or nurse to deliberately or recklessly mislead a patient or their family or cover up failings that have lead to a serious injury, or in the most severe cases, death of a patient.
In order to make the law viable it will be necessary to overturn the existing culture of secrecy and fear that currently exists among NHS staff when it comes to speaking out. A recent survey carried out by the Nursing Times magazine revealed that many nurses would be worried about being branded a “troublemaker” if they raised concerns about care standards to colleagues.
We will continue to support the campaign for Robbie’s Law. However we anticipate there being a lengthy period of consultation with NHS organisations, public bodies, campaign groups and affected families before anything actually comes in to force. Further, the apparent cultural issues within the NHS will need to be resolved before transparency and honesty can be truly embraced by staff at all levels.