NHS staff are facing fears of dismissal or litigation as a result of raising the alarm about mistakes made during treatment of patients in hospital. According to the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, this fear has resulted in “hundreds of deaths at Gosport War Memorial hospital which could have been prevented if whistleblowers had been encouraged to come forward.”
Jeremy Hunt spoke as a guest on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and suggested that mistakes made by the NHS should be highlighted to prevent them from happening again. He said that “in some places they are worried they might get fired.” He also said that they “have to tackle that blame culture and turn that into a learning culture.”
NHS staff fear that they if they intervene when mistakes are being made, they will face litigation or having to appear in front of the General Medical Council (GMC) or the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC); the regulators of medical practitioners and nursing/midwifery professionals within the UK.
A report published in June 2018, led by the former bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, found that 456 patients at Gosport hospital died due the inappropriate administration of opioid drugs, alongside a further 200 patients whose lives had been shortened as a result of the high dosage given as treatment for pain.
An independent report also found that a GP working as a clinical assistant for the hospital had regularly overprescribed these drugs during the 1990’s. It was stated that consultants were aware of her actions but did not intervene. She was later found guilty of serious professional misconduct during a GMC investigation in 2009; however, she was not struck off. The report also revealed that nursing staff had raised concerns nearly 30 years ago, however their fears were being “silenced” by management.
Professor Sir Brian Jarman, the head of the Dr Foster Unit at Imperial College London, also speaking on the Today programme, warned that there were likely to be situations similar to the Gosport deaths happening elsewhere. He said that “at the moment, whistleblowers are fired, gagged and blacklisted. Nobody dare whistle blow in the NHS.”
Mr Hunt feels that progress is being made and the NHS culture is changing. Hospitals are now subject to regular inspection. There are processes in place which enable whistleblowers to raise any concerns they may have and patients are also better able to make complaints.
The families of the patients who died in Gosport hospital raised their concerns 20 years before the report on the deaths were published, but Mr Hunt said that he is “confident that sort of time period wouldn’t happen now.” He said they “would be on the case much more quickly.” Mr Hunt and Prime Minister Theresa May have issued formal apologies to the families.
Moosa-Duke Solicitors are specialists in clinical negligence law. If you believe that you or a family member have been a victim of negligence, both privately or under the NHS, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0116 254 7456, so that we can discuss your concerns.