The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is due to announce that all deaths in hospital will, from 2018, be examined by a second doctor who was unconnected to the deceased’s care. This move is intended to improve care and to provide answers to bereaved relatives.
The examination of a deceased patient will not be a full investigation as to their cause of death as most deaths in hospital are predictable but it will be used to go into detail of cases in which concerns have been raised. Also, it will provide further documentation to enable hospitals to spot trends where there has been a sudden rise in the number of deaths due to the same cause, for example.
It has also been reported by The Guardian that Mr Hunt will reveal plans to provide clinicians with legal protection to speak out about mistakes in hospital that have caused harm to patients. This so-called ‘duty of candour’ was one of the recommendations of Sir Francis in his review into the Mid Staffs Hospital scandal. It will enable staff to be honest about incidents without fear of repercussions and will hopefully improve transparency in NHS care. The doctors providing a ‘second look’ when a patient has died should therefore feel able to point out mistakes that may have led to or caused the death.
From a clinical negligence perspective, any move by the government to improve patient safety and allow mistakes to be admitted when things do go wrong must be welcomed. It is unfortunate, however, that these changes will not come into effect in England until 2018.