Bereaved families failed by NHS investigations into unexpcted hospital deaths

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has published a report this month (December 2016) entitled “Learning, Candour and Accountability”, which found that the health service across England is failing to fully investigate deaths of patients in their care.

The report ordered by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and produced by the health watchdog found that there is no single framework for investigating deaths. It suggests there is potential for future problems occurring as the health service is not taking note of the lessons that need to be learned across all provisions.

Of the deaths registered in England last year, 47% of people were in hospital at the time they died. The three key reasons why a Trust is likely to investigate a death are learning, candour and accountability according to the report.

However a failure to investigate was highlighted in cases of deaths involving people with mental health problems or learning disabilities. A previous NHS England report published in December 2015 into care at Southern Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust identified that less that 1% of deaths in learning disability services had been investigated and 0.3% of all deaths in mental health services for older people had been investigated during a three year period. It was these initial findings which prompted the CQC investigations.

The CQC report goes on to highlight insensitive treatment of bereaved relatives when they make requests for further information about the death of a relative, often being treated without the kindness, respect and honesty they would have expected.

A number of recommendations are made in the report including the need for a single framework to be developed to investigate and learn from deaths, which is to run alongside the existing Serious Incident Framework. It also calls for parents and carers to be more involved in investigations, as an improvement in electronic information sharing systems among those involved in reporting and investigating a death.

Much blame has been placed on individuals in recent times for bringing claims against the NHS, taking funds away from frontline service to defend such claims. The CQC report highlights a need for greater transparency, more involvement of the families as well as more thorough investigations. It is suggested this may lead to fewer protracted claims against health care providers.

We are frequently approached to investigate potential negligence claims where families have met with difficulty and indeed obstruction in obtaining information and answers about the serious injury or death of a love-one in hospital. In most cases families do not want long drawn out legal proceedings and are merely ‘looking for answers’ or just an apology when things go wrong.

The NHS Litigation Authority announced earlier this month that it is launching a new mediation service with an aim to provide a forum for open discussion and a chance to meet face-to-face when things have gone wrong. This is a welcome opportunity for patients and their families to voice their concerns. Mediation often results in quicker resolution in a more cost effective way than conventional court based procedures, though questions have been asked as to whether it is in fact best for the patient and their family if they do not have access to a legal representative. Mediation is a process of discussion with a trained, impartial mediator with the aim of finding resolution, but for it to work effectively the patient must not be left to attend mediations on their own, or even with a family member where potential compensation and financial settlements are to be discussed and agreed. A patient who attends on their own may not be able to identify any future care needs for example, which may lead to unfair settlements. It should be remembered that the mediator is not there to ensure a fair compensation package, merely to aid the process of settlement – so if no legal representative is involved on the patient’s behalf there is naturally a concern as to whether justice can be achieved.

It is nevertheless hoped that the recommendations, assuming they are put into place in some form or other, will may make the process easier and less demanding for patients and their families at what is already a very traumatic time.

If you been the victim of medical negligence, or you believe a loved one had died as a result of negligence and are seeking specialist representation then please call our FREE LEGAL HELPLINE on 0800 975 8091 for an initial assessment or email us direct at info@medicalaccidentlawyers.co.uk

You will be assured of being treated with compassion and understanding by a highly experienced team of lawyers dedicated to helping you achieve the justice you deserve.

Bereaved families failed by NHS investigations into unexpcted hospital deaths