Clinical Negligence & Catastrophic Injury Solicitors
Reports into serious patient safety issues 'being buried' BBC investigation claims.
Serious patient safety issues are being buried in confidential hospital reports, BBC Panorama has claimed.
Freedom of Information requests revealed 111 reports, written by medical royal colleges, which NHS trusts have a duty to share.
Although 80 of these reports were given to the BBC, only 26 had been shared in full with regulators, and 16 published.
Since the 2015 Morecambe Bay maternity scandal, in which 11 babies and a mother died, NHS Trusts are supposed to publish summaries of external reviews, and share them with the regulator after an earlier review into the hospital had identified concerns which had not been made public.
Dr Bill Kirkup, who led a 2015 investigation into the Morecambe Bay scandal, said Panorama's findings were a "great disappointment.”
He said: "People should know that there is something that is important enough to be looked at and they should know what the results of that scrutiny are.
"I can't understand what the rationale would be for withholding the existence of a report or the findings of the report. These are important matters of accountability in the public service."
James Titcombe, who became a patient safety campaigner after his baby son, Joshua, died due to failures of care at Morecambe Bay, said that, by not publishing reports: "there are possibly risks out there that the regulator is unaware of, and ultimately those risks can have tragic consequences.”
Freedom of Information (FoI) requests were sent to all NHS Trusts in the UK requesting any Royal College reviews of services in the last five years.
The Royal Colleges set standards of care and can be commissioned to review how a health care provider is performing.
Of the 80 reports released to the BBC, just 16 are in the public domain, and only 26 were shared in full with the regulators.
In another 22 cases of those passed to the BBC, the regulator was only aware of the review or had only seen part of it. Sixty-five of the 80 contained potential or actual patient safety concerns.
Though the BBC had been told about 111 reports, the Royal Colleges told Panorama they had carried out about 260 reviews in the same period.
Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, said she was "dismayed" that summaries of reports were not being made public. It had published guidance in 2016 saying reports dealing with safety or care concerns should be made public.
She added: "If things are not being shared, and if that has implications for patient safety, that must be put right. The fact that a review is done should never be secret. A summary of the findings should always be published".
Health and care regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) does not currently have the legal power to compel trusts to share the reports or make the trust implement recommendations.
The CQC's chief inspector of hospitals, Prof Ted Baker, said: "Both hospital trusts, and the professional bodies undertaking invited reviews, have a responsibility to ensure that any serious patient safety issues raised in an invited review are shared with CQC/more
"It is extremely disappointing that, despite this very clear expectation, we continue to see examples of a lack of transparency."
Dr Kirkup said a legal duty may have to be placed on trusts compelling them to disclose royal college reviews.
NHS England and NHS Improvement said there are "robust and transparent systems to ensure hospitals and other care providers learn and improve services.”
It added: "all independent reviews should be made available" to health commissioners and regulators and it "expects trusts to take prompt action to address recommendations made.”
Out of 111 reports the BBC was made aware of, 100 came from NHS trusts in England.
The NHS in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland all emphasised the usefulness of the Royal College review system and stressed the importance of openness and transparency in healthcare.
The Department of Health declined to comment on whether it might change the law to ensure publication.