NHS must say when you have been harmed

The National Health Service (NHS) Constitution has been amended to take in the new duty to notify patients (or their families) when there has been a “safety incident” resulting in death or harm.

This duty applies equally to child and adult patients.

The revised Constitution, dated 27 July 2015, states:

“You must be told about any safety incident relating to your care which, in the opinion of a healthcare professional, has caused, or could still cause, significant harm or death. You must be given the facts, an apology, and any reasonable support you need.”

The accompanying Handbook to the NHS Constitution defines significant harm as:

“a permanent lessening of bodily, sensory, motor, physiologic or intellectual functions, including removal of the wrong limb or organ or brain damage, that is related directly to the incident and not related to the natural course of the service user’s illness or underlying condition.”

Although the Handbook’s definition uses the word “permanent”, the regulations governing the new duty of candour require incidents leading to moderate harm, prolonged pain or prolonged psychological harm to be reported to the patient, or his or her family. Article 39 has written to health minister, Ben Gummer MP, for clarification as to the different thresholds. We have also asked whether children’s distinct developmental needs were considered during the drafting of the statutory definitions of prolonged pain and prolonged pyschological harm, which both have time periods of 28 days for children and adults alike.