Poots inclined to back new law on disclosure of medical errors

Health Minister Edwin Poots
Health Minister Edwin Poots

The health minister yesterday said that he is minded to back a law which would demand medical staff be candid about possible mistakes – or face criminal penalties.

Jim Allister MLA said moves to this effect are already under way in Westminster, and he asked Edwin Poots if it was time to consider bringing such a law – known as a “statutory duty of candour” – to bear on those working in Northern Ireland’s hospitals too.

In response, Mr Poots said officials were preparing a report for him on the pros and cons of the idea.

“I would be somewhat inclined that we go with the duty of candour,” he said.

“We’re certainly open to the idea. But I don’t think it is the entire solution. I think it may be part of the solution.”

Asked what it would mean in practice, the department said it would apply “where there is a belief or suspicion that any treatment or care provided to a patient has caused harm or serious injury. Breach of this duty would carry criminal sanctions.”

He was speaking in the wake of news that there were grounds for concern over 11 deaths in the Northern Trust area in recent years.

One such case is of 81-year-old Neil Cormican, who died in 2010 at Antrim Hospital.

His death was referred to a coroner to look into, but not straight away – something the trust acknowledged was a “serious error in judgment”.

After investigating, a coroner found Mr Cormican died after wrongly being given potassium which was meant for another patient, because of a mix-up in notes.