Will Hunts vision of a ‘duty of candour’ really bring about cultural change in the NHS?

Department of Health Media have contradicted my suggestion in a previous blog that Mr Hunt has ignored David Behan and CQCs guidance regarding a ‘duty of candour’.  I’ve conteacted them four times for clarification without success. i can find no record evidence to support their assertion.

So what does Clause 80 actually say about the level at which healthcare service providers need to adhere to a duty of candour.  Is it ‘moderate harm’ and/or ‘serious injury?

(See the blog below that started this discussion)

Minutes from CQC’s public board meeting on the 22nd January 2014 state David Behan gave evidence to the ‘Duty of Candour’ review on the 9th January, followed up by a letter on the 16th January 2014. At that review David Behan expressed CQC’s view that the threshold should be set to include death, serous injury and moderate harm, to be consistent with the guidance published in the ‘Being Open Framework‘ and CQC’s interpretation of the term ‘serious’ in Robert Francis’ recommendations.

On the 23rd January 2014 the House of Commons Public Bill Committee published its’ latest amendments. One related to the ‘duty of candour’. Clause 80 on page 72, line 20, now reads

‘The duty of candour specified in regulations made under this section shall require
healthcare service providers who believe or suspect that treatment or care
provided or contributed to death or serious injury to a patient…..’

It appears the committee chose to ignore CQC’s views as ‘moderate harm’ is not included.

From my perspective this makes little sense and does not demonstrate an understanding of the potential of thresholds to provide not just openness in an organisation but also a preventative strategy. Surely enabling individuals to speak up if they identify any harm at all may then prevent poor, or abusive, practice developing into serious injury, or even death.  The fact that policies and legislation appear to be allowing mild (or even moderate) harm to occur surely will contribute to developing the culture we are seeking to eliminate.

Whilst a duty of candour is welcomed , I wonder now is the threshold set too high to really change the ‘culture’ Robert Francis identified as contributing to poor standards of care at Mid Staffordshire.

The latest overview of adult social care in England from the National Audit Office again highlights problems that exist when it clearly states

Safeguarding vulnerable adults from abuse and neglect remains a major risk throughout the sector…….In 2012-2013, 36% of safeguaridng referrals were about alleged abuses by social care or health workers.’

The report also suggests a rise in incidents of abuse could be related to systematic cuts across the sector.  If this is the case the system will need more than a duty of candour and an emphasis on whistle blowing to make a difference.

Thresholds can be effective as a preventative mechanism, but not if they are set too high or used as an administrative convenience to ensure the number of reports are kept at a manageable level for the organisation, which is surely counter productive to changing the ‘culture’ of any failing provider of care.  In my view to really change cultures within organisations we need to take a zero tolerance approach to harm, whether its mild, moderate or severe, it has no place in health and social care.

I came across a quote this week which I find very pertinent in regards to how government policy/legislation translates into frontline practice

‘To assume that an official plan and its implementation in practice are the same is to fly in the face of facts. Invariably to some degree, the plan as put into practice is modified, twisted and reshaped, and take on unforeseen accretions’ (Herbert Blumer)

Hmmmm……….

To change the current culture within some care provider organisations will require far more than the Care Bills ‘Duty of Candour’, it will require 100% commitment from all involved to adhere to not just the letter of the law but the spirit. I do believe this is a positive step forward, however, Government needs to take an active lead, and listen to people like David Behan, to ensure it is implemented to change organisational priorities at the highest level, otherwise the ‘duty of candour’ risks becoming just more empty words and another box to tick.

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