The Moral Obligation to Learn from Mistakes

8 February 2019

The article in yesterday’s Times “when it comes to NHS negligence, prevention is better than cure – the NHS has a new strategy for tackling claims” is good news.  Claimant lawyers will be able to argue with force that the “compensation culture” really is a myth given that the statistics show that formal litigation for medical negligence cases fell in the past year.  Also good is the acknowledgement that Claimant legal costs have come down for the first time.  The explanation of the alteration in the discount rate being the cause of the sudden rise in damages awarded in these types of claim is welcome. 

However, it is the final paragraph of this interesting article that, for me, gets to the heart of the matter.  In particular, the quote from Ian Dilks. He says “If we have access to data as to what causes claims,”…”we have almost a moral obligation to see how we can use that to end up with better outcomes for patients.”  I totally agree with this position and, indeed, I would argue that it is not “almost” a moral obligation but absolutely a moral obligation.  I have said often in the past that, without exception, patients who have been failed by their doctors and seek the help of lawyers say that one of their motivating factor is to ensure that what happens to them does not happen to anybody else.  I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of so many people and my personal view is that this creates a moral obligation to ensure systems are built around learning from mistakes.  Respected academics such as Suzanne Shale (Chair of Trustees, AvMA) have long argued for moral leadership in medicine.  Now it seems that moral imperative is starting to be recognised.


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