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Legal protection for whistleblowers over hospital errors to be introduced in England

Anyone who speaks up following a hospital mistake will be given legal protection, England’s health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced at the Global Patient Safety Summit held in London on 9–10 March 2015.

As part of his plans for “a safer NHS”, changes are to be made to the General Medical Council and Nursing and Midwifery Council guidance meaning that when NHS staff are honest about mistakes and apologise, a professional tribunal will give them credit for that, just as failing to do so may incur a serious sanction.

Hunt also announced that an independent Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch will be set up as part of the new measures. From April 2018, expert medical examiners will independently review and confirm the cause of all deaths, as recommended both by the Shipman Inquiry and the Francis Inquiry into failings within the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Hunt said: “We need to unshackle ourselves from a quick-fix blame culture and acknowledge that sometimes bad mistakes can be made by good people. “

“It is a scandal that every week there are potentially 150 avoidable deaths in our hospitals and it is up to us all to make the need for whistleblowing and secrecy a thing of the past as we reform the NHS and its values and move from blaming to learning,” he added.

A further new measure is that NHS Improvement will publish the first annual ‘Learning from mistakes league’, which will identify the degree of openness and transparency in NHS provider organisations. The first league, published on 9 March 2016, rated 120 organisations out of 230 as ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’.

Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex and chair of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, welcomed the announcement, but he warns: “The government is not yet committed to a new act of parliament which we believe will be necessary to implement this effectively.” 

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2016.20200861

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  • Health secretary Jeremy Hunt with microphone

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