Lawyers Voice Concern Over Anonymous Database

Medical Law And Patients Rights Lawyers

01.04.2010

Lawyers Voice Concern Over Anonymous Database

Leading medical law and patients rights lawyers have voiced concerns over new laws which only force hospitals to issue anonymous reports of errors to a central database.

Lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have said that although they welcome developments that mean all mistakes will now be recorded, the changes do not go far enough with doctors still under no obligation to reveal details to bereaved relatives or victims.

The new system was established by the Care Quality Commission and staff who fail to comply with it could face prosecution.

Ian Christian from Irwin Mitchell said: "Time and again, we are contacted by people who have been injured through a medical error but received no indication from the Trust about what has gone wrong or why. Some have struggled to negotiate their way through the complaints process only to wait three or four months for an unsatisfactory explanation. As for such an explanation being given voluntarily, this is rare in the extreme.

"Instead, the victim or their family have to embark upon a lengthy investigation to uncover what, in many cases, the clinicians already know. And so, where mistakes or cases of negligence are revealed, it begs the question why they had not been flagged and addressed immediately.

"One of the reasons that the majority of our clients pursue legal action is in order to force change and make sure that what has happened to them is never allowed to happen again. Patient safety should be of paramount importance and only by identifying and addressing mistakes that are made can improvements be made that ensure lessons are learnt."

Figures from the Department of Health showed that around 500,000 patients a year were accidentally harmed in NHS hospitals. Out of this total only 30,000 led to complaints and 6,000 to litigation.

"The NHS Litigation Authority says it faces liabilities of £10 billion based on reports it receives from hospitals of accidents where people would have the right to compensation," said Peter Walsh, chief executive of the charity Action for Victims of Medical Accidents.

"Yet only £870m, including costs, was paid out last year, suggesting very large numbers of patients must have no idea they are entitled to compensation."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The parliamentary health select committee has called for a debate on the issue of a statutory duty of candour for doctors. We are setting up meetings to discuss these issues further."