Hospitals told to apologise for mistakes


Nurses and doctors are being given orders to take responsibility for their mistakes and to apologise to patients and their families.

The General Medical Council (GMC) and Nursing and Midwifery Council joint guidelines have issued instructions for staff to immediately report a mistake to avoid a repeat thereof.

Figures indicate that as many as 20% of all hospital trusts are under-recording their errors and near-misses, some of which have had fatal results. This includes ‘never’ events, such as the removal of the incorrect organs, drug overdoses and swabs being left inside patients.

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, will today place focus on the importance of honesty during a speech at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. He will place emphasis on how these errors cause ‘immeasurable harm’ and call on the NHS to improve its safety record.

The guidelines urge staff to immediately report the near-misses or mistakes to their managers then inform patients and apologise properly, and to accept personal responsibility for their mistakes. Thereafter they have to inform the patients as to how the error will be corrected. An example of this is when a swab has mistakenly been left inside a patient following surgery, they will require further surgery for its removal.

It is the responsibility of hospitals to report errors and near-misses to the NHS National Reporting and Learning System. However, an analysis done by the Department of Health during June indicated that 29 of the 130 hospital trusts based in England were under-reporting the events.

Separate figures indicate that during last year, there were 312 events across the NHS which were not reported at all. This includes 123 patients who had scalpels, swabs and other objects left inside them after surgery and a further 89 cases where doctors did surgery on the wrong part of the patient’s body. Around 49 patients were fitted with the incorrect prosthetic limb or implant, and 14 patients had feeding tubes inserted into their lungs, instead of their stomach.

According to Jeremy Hunts, honesty and transparency when things go wrong will serve to improve the safety of patients and forms part of the continued culture change for the NHS.

The full extent of cover-ups and secrecy in the NHS was highlighted during 2012, in a damning report into the scandal at Mid Staffordshire, where hundreds of patients died due to inadequate care.

Robert Francis QC, the author of the report, warned that the culture of fear which exists in several hospitals prevent staff from admitting their errors or raising concerns.

The chief executive of the GMC, Niall Dickson, said patients deserve a concise and honest explanation if something has gone wrong with the care they have received. He said this is the reason why, for the first time, they are collaborating on this guidance. He added that it will ensure that doctors, midwives and nurses are working to a common standard and be fully aware of their exact responsibilities.

Image Credit: Yuya Tamai


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