Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: NHS cannot allow a culture of cover-ups

Every day, as often highlighted by this newspaper, those working in the health service in Northern Ireland perform miracles of modern medicine.

They work under intense pressure and frequently with a lack of resources to provide the best possible care to the thousands of people who pass through hospitals, clinics and doctors' surgeries. Their work is not just important, it is life-saving and we should be grateful for it.

But even those who work in the health service admit that things can go wrong and today we publish details of 500 blunders which occurred in health settings in Northern Ireland over the past two years. Those mistakes ranged from medical procedures which went wrong resulting in death to bureaucratic errors regarding the handling of patient records. While no one should try to underplay the seriousness of the mistakes uncovered, they must be viewed in context, especially the number of people treated annually by healthcare professionals.

What is unfortunate is that it took a number of painstaking investigations by way of Freedom of Information Requests to uncover the blunders. A major, and continuing, problem within the health services is the reluctance of many within it to admit to fault. That can cause years of anguish for the relatives of those who suffered poor treatment, possibly with fatal consequences, as they struggle to find out the truth.

It sometimes takes the courage of whistleblowers within the service to shed light on malpractice. Who can forget the 30-odd children who died after undergoing heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary in the early 1990s because of flawed care? It is only when such problems are exposed that procedures can be put in place to ensure there is no repetition. That may be of scant solace to wronged patients or their relatives, but it does ensure that the health service continues to seek the highest standards of care possible. Health care is complex and mistakes inevitably will happen. It is the failure to disclose errors voluntarily which is most concerning.

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