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Will new NHS death probe rules finally stop the compounding of families’ grief?

When patients and families approach the specialist solicitors at JMW for help after being affected by an act of medical negligence they often tell us that the NHS has been less than honest with them about what went wrong, even when serious injury has been caused.

This lack of NHS openness and honesty has been a key concern of our clients for years and in some cases the poor response they have received to complaints left them with no other avenue to pursue other than legal action.

Those with responsibility for investigating incidents involving patient harm do not always have contact with the families involved nor see first-hand the devastation that has been caused to their lives. In fact, in many cases where someone has died or been left with life-changing injuries no investigation is even carried out.

Within the team at JMW we have seen this happen on cases where children have suffered severe brain damage and will require 24-hour care for the rest of their lives. Perhaps being removed from the reality of what these families have been through and continue to endure is what gives NHS managers the ability to act with such a lack of compassion.

Sometimes an investigation is done but the family is not told, the findings are not shared with them and it would never have come to light without JMW’s investigation. The suffering that this causes cannot be underestimated and when families have to fight so hard to find out what happened to their loved one it leaves them angry and disillusioned with the health service.

Steps are now being taken to address this and the health secretary has said new rules will be published next year which will force trusts to improve investigations into preventable deaths. It comes after a report from the Care Quality Commission criticised trust investigations and said they often shut relatives out, caused more suffering and left them without clear answers (BBC).

We are pleased to see that steps are being taken to address the failures in investigations when it comes to preventable deaths. This is not only vital for the families concerned but also to reduce the number of preventable deaths from occurring.

However, it must also be extended to other serious injuries. These families also deserve more openness and honesty from the NHS so that they can start to pick up the pieces more quickly. It would not only stop their distress from being compounded but would also provide a unique learning opportunity to stop the same mistakes being made time and again.

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