Jeremy hunt agrees to full duty of candour

Published: 26 Mar 2014

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt has today announced he accepts the introduction of a full Duty of Candour. The new legal duty on healthcare organisations in England to be open and honest with patients or their families when harm has been caused will apply to any incidents causing significant harm. Mr Hunt’s predecessors as Secretary of State for Health and pockets of the medical profession had fiercely resisted the notion of a statutory Duty of Candour. The present government only agreed to a Duty of Candour following years of campaigning led by AvMA and the recommendation of the Francis inquiry into Mid Staffordshire. Until AvMA’s intervention last year, Mr Hunt had intended to restrict the duty only to fatal cases or those causing the most severe permanent disability. A review was commissioned from Sir David Dalton and Professor Norman Williams to advise him on the issue. That review agreed with AvMA that the Duty should apply to any significant harm. The Duty of Candour will be contained in the Care Quality Commission regulations which apply to all health and social care organisations in England and are due to come into force in October 2014.

AvMA chief executive, Peter Walsh, said:

“This is potentially the biggest advance in patients’ rights and patient safety since the creation of the NHS. For decades the NHS has frowned upon cover-ups but has been prepared to tolerate them. A lack of honesty when things go wrong adds insult to injury and causes unnecessary pain and suffering for everyone. Organisations that hide the truth are also less likely to learn from it. We are extremely grateful for the Secretary of State’s preparedness to listen and the insight and leadership he has shown on this issue. This is the result of a David and Goliath struggle to outlaw cover ups and promote a culture of openness in healthcare. The challenge now is to make sure that the detail and the delivery is right. We will also be looking to other parts of the UK to follow suit.”

The Duty of Candour is also known as “Robbie’s Law” in honour of the Powell family in South Wales who lost their son due to negligence over 20 years ago and have campaigned ever since to raise awareness of the need to outlaw cover-ups. Their huge sacrifices have included the sacrifice of over £300,000 in compensation to bring the absence of such a duty into the public domain.

Robbie’s father, Will Powell, said:

“Losing Robbie as a consequence of medical error was difficult enough without having to endure, so far, almost 24 years of alleged dishonesty and cover-ups. Many others and I believe that honesty is the best policy following an adverse clinical incident and this positive announcement today will hopefully ensure that victims of the NHS and bereaved families will now be legally entitled to be told the truth when medical treatment goes wrong. This will in turn assist the families to move on with their lives and guarantee that lessons will truly be learned to prevent repetition.”