Hospital attempts to cover up negligence by changing medical records
A shocking and disturbing article appeared in The Times this week following an investigation by Rob Behrens, of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. This highlighted that hospitals are still covering up serious mistakes in patient care with medical records being changed to cover up these mistakes and doctors too scared to speak out about shortcomings in their hospitals. Mr Behrens reaffirmed a plea made by many in this area of law for a duty of candour to be placed on health service staff to make the system more accountable to patients.
The Times describes that Mr Behrens has issued an unprecedented warning over patient safety, culture and leadership at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and perhaps most worrying of all is his analysis that there is “more to come” but that individual doctors are too scared to speak out in public. Mr Behrens told The Times that his findings were not isolated and there appears to be a deep reluctance to come clean for fear of retribution. Mr Behrens was understandably particularly concerned about the avoidable deaths of babies in the NHS occurring because of poor co-ordination or an incorrect diagnosis or because parents had not been listened to.
Mr Behrens’ assessment of the position in the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust is disturbing, as is his reference to this potentially being the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, in many cases of medical negligence, where injured victims are seeking out the truth in relation to what may have happened to them or their loved ones, lack of candour is a feature. They are met with walls of silence, inaccurate assessments of what actually had happened and significant delays in responding to their complaints and concerns. I, too, have handled cases where medical records have been altered to distort a version of events that is inconsistent with what actually happened. These practices are entirely unacceptable.
Medical negligence claimants and their lawyers are often criticised for placing a financial burden upon the NHS. Unfortunately, as this article shows, practices within the NHS are always not entirely above-board and patients and their families have to pursue cases through the Courts to access the truth. A culture change is clearly needed but, on the basis of Mr Behren’s interview with The Times, I fear we are a long way from that dawn.