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In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph on 29 October 2017 Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS National Medical Director, said that patients were being left in danger because of the absence of any central NHS system ordering changes in practice on safety grounds. Patients are being left at risk of suffering needless harm, including amputations, devastating maternity complications and in some circumstances, death. All this because a lack of action to protect patients from known risks.
It is commendable that Professor Keogh felt able to speak out in what is an unprecedented comment for someone in his position dealing with the major issue of patient safety. I admire Professor Keogh's intervention although it is unfortunate that it takes someone of his standing to go public with such concerns. Professor Keogh's intervention is the latest in a growing voice of concerns (both from the medical and legal professions) on the NHS’ ability to learn from mistakes and improve patient safety.
On 14 September 2017, while writing in The Times, I commented on what I saw was a wasted opportunity by the National Audit Office to consider the cost of medical negligence litigation, and whether learning from mistakes is actively being achieved. I said what many medical negligence practitioners see on an on-going basis, “the primary way to tackle burgeoning spend on clinical negligence litigation is to learn from clinical mistakes and put into place procedures to prevent - as far as possible - re-occurring errors." It is a shame that two months later the failure to learn from mistakes and improve patient safety again hits the national press, this time comments from a senior member of the NHS.
My thoughts on Professor Keogh's comments, from a claimant medical negligence practitioner perspective, are:
It should be remembered that the NHS is a national institution. There is national pride in the NHS and the excellent service it provides on a daily basis. Individuals do not take to suing the NHS lightly. However, when encountering a culture of silence or feeling as though the medical profession are closing ranks when patient or family members seek answers following adverse outcomes, it is understandable why people turn to litigation. I have said in the past, and I am sure I will continue to say for many years to come - collaboration and mediation is the answer.
If you would like to read the article that first appeared in The Times on 14 September 2017 please click here.
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