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Sector split over clampdown on reporting work accidents

By Victoria O'Hara

Steps to make health trusts more transparent when reporting if an incident impacts on a patient's safety in hospital have received a mixed response from a leading medical union.

A statutory 'duty of candour' is to be introduced across trusts in Northern Ireland, one of the recommendations of a sweeping review of the Health Service.

Announced by Health Minister Jim Wells, the recommendation was part of the Sir Liam Donaldson review into the health system.

The report said the current system of incident reporting was "falling well below its potential" due to a number of reasons. It would mean that all staff have a statutory responsibility to report any incident they believe to be what is known as a Serious Adverse Incident - or SAI. A serious adverse incident is any event or circumstance that led to, or could have led to, serious unintended or unexpected harm, loss or damage.

This includes whether a patient has died in unusual circumstances. In March 2014, the launch of a probe into the deaths of five babies at the Northern Health Trust led to calls for a 'duty of candour' to be introduced to improve transparency. They were among 11 cases being probed.

There was evidence to show that there were delays in eight of the cases being reported as "serious adverse incidents". Campaigners believe only a statutory duty of candour provides an enforceable system of timely reporting of serious adverse incidents.

However, the British Medical Association said it believed the introduction of such a regulation would not add anything "substantive" to the existing routines and could have the opposite effect of that intended. Dr John D Woods, chairman of BMA Northern Ireland Council, supports the principle underlying the idea but added: "The threat of criminal prosecution for an act committed in the course of treating a patient (whether accidentally, negligently or purposefully) could, instead, worsen the culture of fear amongst professionals that prevents people speaking out."

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