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Doctors (Accountability)

Volume 569: debated on Tuesday 22 October 2013

While always paying regard to the superb job done by most doctors, we should allow no hiding place for doctors who endanger patients’ lives by irresponsible or careless behaviour, which is why we have asked the Law Commission to come up with proposals to speed up General Medical Council investigations. We are also considering a new criminal offence of wilful neglect, as recommended by Professor Don Berwick.

The cancer diagnosis of my constituent, Mrs Julia Wild, was delayed by nine months because of a mistake by the initial doctor at her first assessment. For four years, she has been fighting for an apology, for transparency and for the doctor to acknowledge what went wrong with her case. What can Mrs Wild, and other patients in the NHS who have had similar experiences, do to ensure that their complaints are taken seriously, that these life-changing mistakes are acknowledged and that the individuals responsible are held to account?

My hon. Friend speaks extremely well and I fully understand her concern about Mrs Julia Wild and the care she received. I cannot second-guess the clinical judgment of the GMC, but I agree that Mrs Wild is owed an apology. If the local NHS will not give it, I will give it now. We should have spotted the advanced lobular cancer and I apologise to her that we did not.

On Friday I visited Cruddas Park surgery in my constituency to see the fantastic work that doctors and staff are doing in the face of huge levels of unmet need, health inequalities and rising mental health issues. If we hold doctors to account for their mistakes, is it not right that they should be able to hold Ministers to account for taking millions of pounds out of their funding and then telling my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) that it was nothing to do with him?

Doctors should be able to hold Ministers to account, as should the public. That is why they will be pleased to know that we protected the NHS budget, and did not follow the advice of the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who wanted it cut from its current levels.

While we are always of course keen to hold doctors to account for their mistakes, I trust that we will be equally keen to reward them for examples of really good practice, such as those my right hon. Friend will see on Thursday when he makes his very welcome visit to the East Surrey hospital. I commend to him the work of Dr Ben Mearns and his emergency and acute team, who demonstrate good practice and also make it transparent to the rest of the national health service.

I am greatly looking forward to visiting my hon. Friend’s hospital on Thursday and going out on the front line. I agree that we need to celebrate success. This has been a difficult year for the NHS as we have learned to be much more transparent about problems when they exist, but one of the advantages of having a chief inspector is that his team will be able to identify and recognise outstanding practice, so that everyone will understand that, as well as some of the problems that get more attention, brilliant things are happening throughout our NHS.

Is the Secretary of State comfortable with a surgeon such as Ian Paterson flitting between the NHS and the private sector, making the same blunders in both but being subject to different levels of accountability and his victims having access to different levels of redress?

As I said in response to an earlier question, the responsibility to be transparent about care should apply equally in the public and the private sector. Obviously, in the public sector we have more levers, because we are purchasing care and we can impose more conditions than it is possible to do in the private sector. The most important thing is to have a culture in which such problems come to light quickly when they happen, so that they are dealt with and not repeated.