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Medical cover-ups should be a crime, public believe as 'defensiveness and secrecy' within NI health service slammed


Inquiry chair Justice O’Hara

Inquiry chair Justice O’Hara

Freddie Parkinson

Inquiry chair Justice O’Hara

Cover-ups by medical professionals when a patient dies or comes to serious harm should be a criminal offence, the public believes.

Three-quarters of respondents to a Department of Health survey have said it should be a crime when healthcare staff "withhold or alter information, cover up events, or provide false information" in such a situation.

The Department of Health is coming under growing pressure to introduce legislation that would make it illegal to cover up mistakes or errors that result in a patient coming to serious harm.

It follows the publication of the damning Hyponatraemia Inquiry report which examined the deaths of five children following treatment in hospitals in Northern Ireland.

The chair of the public inquiry, Mr Justice O'Hara, issued an excoriating assessment of defensiveness and secrecy within the health service and said: "The evidence from this inquiry shows that doctors and managers can't simply be relied upon to do the right thing at the right time."

Mr Justice O'Hara recommended the introduction of a duty of candour, which would require healthcare professionals to tell patients or their families when something has gone wrong.

The Department of Health commissioned Lucid Talk to carry out a survey on the issue at the start of the year and 2,295 people responded in full.

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The majority of people said they felt health service organisations were open to feedback, concerns and complaints, and they were involved in decisions about their care and treatment.

However, a third said they felt they could not raise a concern or complaint, 60% said they didn't feel involved in the process to find out what went wrong, 59% received an explanation and almost two-thirds did not receive an apology.

When asked whether it should be a crime for an individual working for the health and social care sector to withhold, alter information, cover up events or provide false information when something goes wrong, resulting in serious harm or death, 75% said yes.

Almost a fifth of respondents didn't know, while 7% said no.

Respondents were asked to explain why they were in favour of the introduction of a duty of candour.

One respondent said: "Covering up only serves the guilty parties interests. It will not improve the outcome for future patients and risks more unnecessary deaths."

Another respondent said: "They are in a position of trust and authority over those who at the time and as a result of their condition may not be in a position to challenge information given or be it the right mind set to make choices affecting their lives."

Last month, Health Minister Robin Swann announced details of a public consultation on the possibility of the introduction of duty of candour legislation.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said: "The poll was commissioned by the Duty of Candour Workstream as part of its evidence gathering and that the results were taken into consideration when developing the options for consultation."

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