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From a Blame Culture to a Learning Culture

Dec 03, 2018
Last year, medical negligence cost the NHS £1.7billion, unnecessarily diverting money away from the medical frontline.

Most medical treatment in the UK is of a very high standard and the majority of health service staff are dedicated professionals delivering excellent care. There is very rarely any wilful intention to cause harm. Nevertheless, not everything always goes to plan and, when deadlines and budgets are tight, mistakes can happen. Patients who have suffered as a result of a medical practitioner’s negligence or the failure of the system have a right to be justifiably compensated for their pain, suffering and loss. 

Healthcare professionals are usually working in high-risk environments, invariably as part of a team and, when things go wrong, there is often a push to allocate individual blame. This ‘blame culture’ is not in line with patient safety and a learning-focused approach and does little to encourage clinicians to openly and honestly reflect on their mistakes for fear of reprisal or prosecution. It also leads to a failure to identify the series of events and systematic problems that are the true cause of avoidable harm.

This was highlighted in the recent case of Jack Adcock and Dr Bawa-Garba where staff shortages, insufficient hand-overs, inadequate consultant cover and poor communication across the board were all factors in the six-year old’s tragic death. A junior doctor covering the work of three other doctors in six wards, without a single break over a 12-hour shift, was saddled with the blame. 

Whilst it is right that gross medical negligence should carry consequences, scapegoating individual healthcare professionals does not give the complete picture. Without transparency, an explanation of what went wrong and reassurances that measures are put in place to prevent similar tragedies, trust in the NHS will be lost. 
The blame culture doesn’t just create fear for doctors; it causes heartbreak for patients and their families. When people are kept fully informed and given an honest account of what happened, alongside an apology, the impact is bound to be less costly litigation, even when there have been the most terrible tragedies. 

We look forward to the implementation of a process which recognises the need for a profound change in culture and which turns our healthcare systems into learning organisations which offer patients the safe, high quality treatment 
they deserve.

Rachel Davis

About the author

Rachel Davis

Rachel joined Nockolds in 2006 and is a Senior Chartered Legal Executive in our Employment Team. Rachel qualified as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute ...

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