Learn rather than punish

by Vinod Tohani

Making a statutory individual duty of candour and criminal prosecution law will make the medical profession unnecessarily anxious and stressed

Location: Northern Ireland
Last reviewed: 15 June 2021
Busy hospital with blurred figures moving through a reception area

In looking at the proposals to introduce a statutory individual duty of candour with criminal sanctions in Northern Ireland we need to remember that the OʼHara recommendations were made in the context of sad events that took place nearly two decades ago and the practice of medicine has changed, for the benefit of the patient, a great deal in those intervening years.

Duty of candour is now embedded in GMC guidance and the law is already available to prosecute any healthcare worker if a criminal negligent act is behind the poor care of a patient.

The threat of making a statutory individual duty of candour and criminal prosecution into law in Northern Ireland does nothing for patient welfare but does make the medical profession unnecessarily anxious and stressed.

I would ask the Government to think very carefully about the unwanted consequences of proposed duty of candour as most of what the legislation proposes is already in existence and being practised by doctors.

My view would be that they need to make the existing framework around candour work better, encourage more openness and less blame, rather than introducing legislation that will make doctors practice defensive medicine which will ultimately lead to a worse outcome for the patient.

There needs to be a shift towards embedding a culture of learning from errors, rather than censure, to make patient care better.

The COVID pandemic shows how the profession can respond with no regard to their own safety but instead working together for the well-being of their patients.

Vinod Tohani is a retired public health consultant