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NHS Investigatory Failures Highlighted

It has been a bad week in the press for the NHS.

Firstly the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman concluded that families and patients are being left without answers by inadequate hospital investigations, with Dame Julie Miller, the ombudsman, stating that “parents and families are being met with a wall of silence from the NHS when they seek answers as to why their loved one died or was harmed. NHS investigations into complaints about avoidable death and harm are simply not good enough. They are not consistent, reliable or transparent, which means that too many people are being forced to bring the complaint to us to get it resolved”.

Our experience in the medical negligence department here at Hodge Jones & Allen has not always been so negative, which is not surprising given that those cases that reach the Ombudsman are those where families remain dissatisfied. We sometimes see excellent examples of thorough, even independent from the Trust concerned, internal investigations whereas others fall far short of providing the answers that patients or families are seeking when they make a complaint.

On top of the Ombudsman’s findings, a leaked report has criticised Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust for their failure to properly investigate the deaths of more than 1,000 patients with learning disabilities or mental health problems over a four-year period.

The real concern raised by these two news items is the underlying message that the NHS is still not always looking into and learning from mistakes. It is a long time since the Bristol baby heart surgery inquiry, where real hopes were raised that the NHS would develop a more open and transparent culture, and despite numerous policy documents since then there is clearly more work to be done.