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Hospital's fear of litigation stopping them from admitting mistakes

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
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The Telegraph has recently reported that hospitals are failing to admit to their mistakes that result in serious harm to patients because they fear being sued.

The researchers were investigating how closely the NHS Trusts were complying with the guidance provided by the National Patient Safety Agency which urges hospitals to be open and truthful, rather than defensive and legalistic when it comes to serious incidents.

Researchers at the Imperial College London have recently reported their findings in the British Medical Journal Quality and Safety. They have found that some patients or their families waited for over a year before receiving a formal explanation of what led to a ‘serious incident.’ Some are unfortunately, never told.

The researchers discovered that the ‘fear of litigation’ and ‘worry of being accused of malpractice’ were among the most important reasons why the NHS trusts were failing to hold open disclosure meetings with patients or their families.

According to the research, only 20% of Trusts held such meetings in the minority of cases and two thirds of Trusts said typically, they held the first of these meetings more than 3 months after the internal investigation had finished and it is often the case that these investigations take months to complete.

The Imperial College London researchers said: “This implies that many patients and families are waiting for up to a year before any clear explanation of serious incidents is given, which is extremely stressful in many cases.”

The delays “erode trust and may also increase the likelihood of further complaints and litigation,” they stated.

Peter Walsh, the Chief Executive of the charity Action Against Medical Accidents, has said he is disappointed but unsurprised by the findings and has argued that “it’s fundamentally wrong if they are not telling patients as much as they know, as early as possible.”

By Sarah Fairclough