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Watchdog’s prosecution sends a strong message to safety laggards: Time’s up

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The announcement on Friday by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) that it will bring criminal charges against an NHS trust for failing to provide safe care to a patient is a hugely significant milestone in efforts to bring about greater accountability and safer care in the health service.

The CQC has had the power to bring such prosecutions against hospitals since April 2015 when it was given a suite of new legal powers to hold hospitals to account on the care they give to their patients.

Bringing in the new laws, the so-called fundamental standards of care, was one of the most significant actions taken after the care disaster at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, where hundreds of patients suffered shocking neglect, with some dying as a result.

Prosecuting East Kent Hospitals University Trust over the tragic 2017 death of baby Harry Richford is a big step for the CQC and a consequence of the long-forgotten battles of many patients and families in Stafford who were told they were wrong in their complaints against the hospital.

It will almost certainly lead to more calls for criminal charges against hospitals from families who have been failed.

There are countless examples of NHS trusts not acting on safety warnings and patients coming to harm as a result. Just this week an inquest into the case of baby Wynter Andrews at Nottingham University Trust revealed fears over safety had been highlighted to the trust board 10 months before her death.

At Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals Trust there are hundreds of families asking the same questions as more evidence emerges of long-standing failures to learn from its mistakes.

CQC's chief executive, Ian Trenholm, has provoked anger among NHS leaders and clinicians when he advocated taking a tougher line when trusts break the law.  But it is unlikely the CQC will launch a slew of prosecutions. It has said it will bring cases only where it sees patterns of behaviour and systemic failings. That is the correct approach as healthcare is complex and single errors will sadly happen despite everyone doing their best.

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Source: The Independent, 10 October 2020

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