Law on hospital blame 'does not go far enough'

Father who campaigned for 24 years after his son's death demands doctors be held to account

A father who has campaigned for 24 years to hold doctors to account for the death of his son from a treatable disease has said that landmark proposals to impose a duty of candour on all healthcare organisations would be a huge advance – but do not go far enough.

The Secretary of State of Health, Jeremy Hunt, is expected to announce the new rules – which would impose a legal duty to own up to all mistakes that cause harm to patients – within a matter of weeks.

Until recently, only a handful of patient safety campaigners advocated a duty of candour, but a broad consensus has formed since Robert Francis QC included the recommendation in his report into the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal. Mr Hunt commissioned a review led by the Royal College of Surgeons, which concluded last week that the law should be implemented, and should apply to all mistakes that cause even "moderate" harm.

However, patient safety campaigners have said without the efforts of Will Powell, whose son Robbie died at the age 10 in April 1990 after doctors missed multiple opportunities to save his life, it is highly unlikely that the proposed reforms would ever have seen the light of day.

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday, Mr Powell of Ystradgynlais, Powys, said that a statutory duty of candour would represent "one of the biggest changes in patient safety since the inception of the NHS", but called for it to be extended to all individual health professionals, rather than to organisations.

Robbie (near right) died 24 years ago Robbie (near right) died 24 years ago Mr Powell received a public apology from the Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones in 2012, 22 years after his son's death, for the failings in his care and the "inadequate explanations" that were given to the family by doctors, regulators, police and politicians over two decades.

But he is still seeking a public inquiry into the death and the subsequent investigation, during which, it later emerged, GPs changed Robbie's medical records after his death from a treatable condition called Addison's disease. The police, the General Medical Council and the Crown Prosecution Service were accused of failing to investigate the case properly. The family was refused an inquest immediately after Robbie's death, and it was not until 2004 that an inquest ruled he had died of "natural causes aggravated by neglect".

Mr Powell's appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in 2000 was instrumental in bringing to light the lack of a duty of candour law, after the court ruled that while it was "arguable that doctors had a duty not to falsify medical records under the common law", doctors had "no duty to give patients of a child who died as a result of negligence a truthful account of the circumstances of the death, nor even to refrain from deliberately falsifying records". Mr Powell has campaigned for such a duty of candour to become statutory, and known as Robbie's Law.

"Robbie's case failed because when Robbie died those doctors didn't owe Robbie a duty of candour," Mr Powell said. "Because they do not owe you a duty in civil law to tell you the truth, you cannot claim for any damages they've caused by their lies and cover-ups. That means that an individual cannot get doctors into court. They hold the power from day one.

"The duty of candour being proposed doesn't go as far as it needs to, and only time will tell whether or not it's adequate. I think it's going to be inadequate and there's going to be further representations to the Department of Health that there needs to be a free-standing duty of candour on all individual healthcare professionals."

Peter Walsh, chief executive of the patient safety campaign group Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA) said that Mr Powell, who has been described as an "inspiration" by other patient advocates, had done "more than any other individual" to raise the need for a duty of candour.

"Only a short time ago we were a voice in the wilderness, us and Will Powell, saying that we needed this statutory duty," he said. "If Mr Hunt brings it in, the significance of it can't be overestimated. It would put England in the vanguard. We would be world leaders in this concept of what some countries call 'open disclosure'. It would be a model for the rest of the UK and the rest of the world."

Any new law brought in by the UK Government would not apply to Wales because health there is the responsibility of the devolved administration. However, Mr Walsh said that Wales was "next on the list" and that pressure to bring in a duty of candour would be hard to resist if England passed the law.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine