NHS Ombudsman Warns of Cover-Up Culture

NHS Ombudsman Warns of Cover-Up Culture
LLB (Hons) Nimish Patel
Legally reviewed by: LLB (Hons) Nimish Patel Updated: In: Medical Negligence

It’s not the first time that allegations of a toxic, bullying culture in the NHS have prevented staff from speaking up against poor standards of care. Only last year, investigations by Newsnight and BBC West Midlands uncovered allegations of covering up poor care, highlighting the risks that doctors were inadvertently putting patients at by not speaking up. However, in an interview early this March, NHS Ombudsman for England, Rob Behrens reflects that hospitals are still burying evidence in an effort to ‘cover-up’ poor care. These actions have led to unavoidable deaths and families being denied the truth about their loved ones.

Deeply Ingrained Cover Up Culture and Victimisation of Whisteblowers

Rob Behrens is preparing to step down after seven years as Health Service Ombudsman for England. He states that ministers, NHS leaders, and hospital boards are doing too little to end the health services’ deeply ingrained “cover-up culture” and victimisation of staff who turn whisteblower. He adds that many parts of the NHS still put “reputation management” ahead of being open with the relatives of those who have lost loved ones due to medical negligence.

NHS Ombudsman Reveals Cover-Ups

Despite the ombudsman’s claims that the NHS is staffed by “brilliant people” who are working under intense pressure, too often the ombudsman’s investigations into patient’s complaints have revealed cover-ups. This includes altering of care plans and disappearance of crucial documents after patients have died, and NHS denial in the face of documentary evidence.

Nimish Patel, Senior Associate at AWH said: “This is consistent with our experience with Trusts around the country when our clients put in complaints or attend inquests in the hope of being provided with information as to how their loved ones passed away following treatment in hospital. With 11,000 avoidable deaths in the NHS every year, which come down to patient safety failings, the “duty of candour” from Trusts extend to apologising for minor infringements and service issues but refusing to engage in discussions regarding treatment pathways. We have a number of cases where issues have been raised by the treating clinicians within the records, but the NHS Resolution will still deny the claim and require their own evidence extending the suffering and anxiety of the clients pursing them.”      

Furthermore, our medical negligence solicitors have first hand experienced the NHS’s attempt to minimise payout with the Defendants deciding to gather their own evidence, worsening the client’s anxiety and mental health. This not only prolonged the legal battle but caused further distress to our client. Read more about NHS minimising compensation payouts.

The NHS Ombudsman’s Areas of Concern

Behrens urges ministers to uphaul the way the NHS deals with complaints and how the regulatory bodies scrutinise it.

NHS Ombudsman’s concerns include:

  • The number of avoidable deaths, especially in maternity care, mental health, and cases of sepsis.
  • In some cases, the NHS did “dreadful” and “cynical” things to obstruct families’ pursuit of the full details about a death. This includes lying and concealing evidence.
  • The service’s legal “duty of candour” was not forcing hospitals to be open when things went wrong.

“We need to see urgent significant, joined-up intervention to accelerate improvements in culture and leadership, not just in trusts or primary care, but also in NHS England and government.”

He adds, “culture is determined not only from the core of an organisation but also from its top leadership.”

Read more about Donna Ockenden’s independent review launched looking into maternity care:

Intimidating Whisteblowers

The ombudsman has voiced their concern about the recurring patterns of hospitals intimidating whisteblowers rather than seriously addressing their concerns. For example, University Hospital Birmingham trust referred 26 of its medics for alleged misconduct over 10 years to the General Medical Council who regulates doctors. This was done in an effort to punish them for raising concerns. However, none of the medics were found guilty of any wrongdoing. Multiple cases have evidenced the NHS’s cover-ups such as a recent pay out of £472,600 in compensation for unfair dismissal after a whisteblower nurse warned that a patient had died as a result of heavy workloads.

The NHS staff survey reveals that last year, a third of NHS personnel during their work saw errors, near misses or incidents that could have hurt staff or patients.

Initiatives Addressing NHS Cover-ups and Whistleblower Protection

In response to NHS cover-ups and whistleblower concerns, several initiatives have been launched to enhance transparency and patient safety. These measures, alongside investments in infrastructure and workforce development, signify a commitment to improving healthcare and rebuilding trust in the NHS:

  • Updated freedom to speak up guidance within the NHS.
  • Implemented extra background checks for board members to prevent those involved in serious mismanagement from joining another NHS organisation.
  • Major efforts to prioritise patient safety in England.
  • Progress in creating a more positive safety culture among the NHS workforce.
  • Increased levels of patient safety incident reporting.
  • Introduction of a new patient safety incident response framework.
  • Publication of the first NHS patient safety strategy.
  • Investment in the NHS to make it faster, simpler, and fairer.
  • Long-term workforce plan to train and retain staff.
  • Rollout of Martha’s rule, allowing patients and relatives to demand a second opinion.
  • Creation of the Health Services Safety Investigations Body.
  • Establishment of the NHS’s first-ever patient safety commissioner.
  • Presence of various regulators including the Care Quality Commission and GMC.

Making an NHS Negligence Claim

If you have suffered because of medical negligence, then our solicitors can help you. Our specialist medical negligence solicitors will help you go through your medical negligence claim with care and expertise, helping you receive the compensation you deserve.

During a consultation, we will go through the prospects of your claim with you first. If we believe it to be in your best interest to pursue a negligence claim then we will advise you so, however, you are under no obligation to proceed. If you do wish to proceed, we will handle your claim on a no-win, no-fee basis, so you do not have to worry about any legal costs.

Common claims our no-win, no-fee medical negligence solicitors have handled include:

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