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A prosecution of an NHS Trust for failing in its duty of candour - a one off or the first of many?

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The blood scandal inquiry

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust has been prosecuted by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for failing in its obligations to be open and transparent. Elsie Woodfield, who was 91, died due to suffering from a perforated oesophagus during an endoscopy. A District Judge found that the Trust had breached its Duty of Candour to Mrs Woodfield’s family by failing to be open and honest and by not apologising for mistakes made in a timely way. The Trust was fined £12,565.

Although the regulations under the Health and Social Care Act have been in force since 2014, this is the first time that an NHS Trust has been fined for breaching Regulation 20, the intention of which was to enforce a duty of candour, particularly important in the wake of the Mid-Staffordshire NHS scandal.

It is only the CQC that can bring proceedings under this regulation and so this won’t usually be an option as part of a clinical negligence claim, however, I think it is an important tool which ought to be used more frequently when the Trusts are failing in their statutory obligations. Many of my clients, particularly those who have lost a family member, know that no amount of compensation can alter events or bring their loved ones back, but their grief can be compounded when they are faced with a lack of transparency and a dearth of answers from a Trust. Hopefully the CQC won’t be required to bring many cases of this kind in the future, but it’s a reassuring safeguard and a signal to NHS Trusts that there can be regulatory consequences for their failures.