Safe Space at the Cost of Patient Safety

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October 2016 saw the rise of the consultation “Providing a ‘safe space’ in health care safety investigations”.

The briefing on the Department of Health proposal is to extend the ‘safe space’ arrangements to all patient safety investigations.  Effectively it proposes to allow what is termed a ‘safe space’ for practitioners to review mistakes. This would mean a fresh approach to investigation allowing information about their treatment obtained to be withheld from patients and their families.

This has the potential to significantly dilute the statutory ‘duty of candour’ being produced only 2 years ago in an attempt to improve openness, honesty and identify steps to prevent the same mistakes arising.  Where under the duty of candour the patient or their family is made aware of significant harm caused by treatment or where there is potential to be significant harm, the ‘safe space’ would limit this disclosure.

This has the potential to undermine public confidence and create distrust.  Discression on whether to withhold information relating directly to a patient is at the door of the investigator. In my view this will fuel litigation as patients seek to find out what has happened.  I know from experience that at the end of a lengthy litigation process, the receipt of an apology is of little solace.

The aim should be to improve the quality of investigations that promote learning and improvement, rather than implement radical change.

The Health Safety Investigation Branch proposes to extend arrangements in place to withhold information from patients and their families. The suggestion is for a phased introduction.  Maternity cases, often where the most serious and life changing mistakes are made with the potential to change a family dynamic, will be the first to be targeted.

Experience tells me that full disclosure means a greater likelihood of getting the best treatment in place as quickly as possible.  People are more sympathetic when they understand what has happened and what is being done to prevent that happening to someone else.

The charity AvMA (Action Against Medical Accidents), having explored this consultation with Health Practitioners concluded that there was need to address the fear of blame and protect staff from unfair and disproportionate treatment as a result of honest mistakes. It is the unfair treatment by their employer and regulator that is of main concern.  It is my view that it is this that ought to be addressed.

If you are looking for any more information with regards to our services view our Clinical Negligence section. You can also contact solicitor Leonie Millard in our Clinical Negligence department via email or phone on 01254 770517. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

Leonie Millard

About Leonie Millard

Leonie is a Partner within the Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence Department at Forbes Solicitors. Leonie’s blogs cover her specialisms in road traffic accidents, slips and trips, occupiers' liability, criminal injuries compensation authority claims and cases against hospital Trusts, GP's, dentists and private practices.
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