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NHS hospitals need to appoint medical examiners now or risk mistakes such as Mid Staffs happening again

Medical examiners are doctors who look at every hospital death with a fresh pair of eyes to make an independent judgement about what took place. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of their role, and it is vital that NHS hospitals now get on with appointing them as a matter of urgency, says Jeremy Hunt, former Foreign Secretary, in an article in the Independent newspaper.

The big issue is not that bad things happen (sadly in an organisation of 1.4 million people there will inevitably be things that go wrong) but that they take so long to identify and put right. Mid Staffs took four years, Morecambe Bay took nine years and it now looks like the problems at Shrewsbury and Telford could have taken place over 40 years.

Anyone who has spoken to brave patient-safety campaigners who lost loved ones because of poor care will know that their motivation is never money, simply the desire to stop other families having to go through what they have suffered.

That is why they and other patient groups all campaign for medical examiners – a process through which every death is examined by a second, independent doctor. It was first recommended following the Shipman inquiry but has taken a long time to implement – inevitably for cost reasons. 

Where they have been introduced, medical examiners have been transformational. 

The main pilot sites in Sheffield and Gloucester, which scrutinised over 23,000 deaths, found that “medical examiners have triggered investigations that identified problems with post-operative infections faster than other audit procedures, based on surprisingly few cases”. Doctors also felt confident in raising concerns, as they were protected and supported by the independent medical examiner. Remarkably, pilot studies found that 25% of hospital death certificates were inaccurate and 20% of causes of death were wrong.

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Source: The Independent, 16 January 2020


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