latest health care news

10.02.15

Senior NHS staff to face jail and fines for publishing misleading information

Senior staff and directors of NHS organisations who publish ‘false or misleading’ information could face jail and unlimited fines under new government plans.

From April, it will be an offence for providers of NHS-funded care to publish false or misleading information, as part of the Department of Health’s drive to promote openness and transparency.

Providers who are prosecuted under the offence could face unlimited fines, a remedial order, a publicity order or a combination of the three.

Directors or other senior staff at organisations that face prosecution who are found to have consented or connived in the provision of false or misleading information can also be prosecuted. Individuals can be subject to an unlimited fine or, in the most serious cases, could be subject to imprisonment for up to two years, or both.

However the Department of Health has stipulated that the offence will only be applied to the most serious cases, where lives have been put at risk.

“If organisations can demonstrate that they took all reasonable steps, and exercised due diligence, this will not affect them,” a spokesperson said.

This was a key recommendation of Sir Robert Francis QC following the Stafford Hospital scandal, where misleading and dishonest information was given to regulators and the public about the trust’s poor performance.

It will only apply to information that is specified in the regulations and which the provider is under a legal obligation to supply.

Information specified in the regulations will include:

  • mortality data;
  • data submitted to the Health and Social Care Information Centre;
  • quality accounts;
  • complaints data;
  • cancer outcomes data as well as national cancer waiting times; and
  • a number of national audits, including diabetes and maternity services.

Hospitals could also face other financial sanctions if they cannot prove they have been open and honest about an incident which results in a clinical negligence claim.

As part of the government’s response to a new report by Sir Robert, due to be published shortly, “the government is announcing tough new measures that send a clear signal to the NHS that cover ups will not be tolerated”.

Under new plans, the DH is consulting on hospitals potentially paying up to £10,000 for each clinical negligence claim where they can't demonstrate that they have been honest after a significant clinical mistake.

If a hospital can't prove that it has been open about a safety incident which has subsequently resulted in a clinical negligence claim – they could be asked to reimburse up to £10,000 by the NHS Litigation Authority for each case.

Health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: "Being open and learning from mistakes is crucial improving patient care. The NHS is a world class health service, but when mistakes happen it is vital that we face them head on and learn so they are never repeated.

"This sends a strong message that covering up mistakes will not be tolerated.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@nationalhealthexecutive.com

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