The Professional Standards Authority has published its response to the Northern Ireland consultation on duty of candour.

In its response the PSA said:

“We welcome the proposal to introduce a statutory duty of candour for organisations. This would the harmonise the arrangements in Northern Ireland with those in Scotland and England. We understand that the Welsh Government is in the process of developing the detail of their organisational duty of candour too.

Extending the duty to a range of bodies within healthcare is likely to be advisable, because successive inquiries have shown that responsibility for and involvement in mistakes – and occasionally their cover-ups – can extend far beyond the direct patient care context. The intention to mirror the threshold for other parts of the UK including England and Scotland also has the benefit of minimising complexity.”

The PSA expressed concerns about the proposal “to introduce a criminal offence for non-compliance with the duty on individuals” which would”set Northern Ireland apart from other UK jurisdictions, and appears to run counter to some of the thinking on
developing open learning cultures in the workplace.”

It said that “before introducing the full force of criminal sanctions”, the Northern Ireland Government should assure itself of the following:

  • That the criminal sanction is proportionate to the offence, noting that there is a spectrum of lack of candour, and that instances at the lower end may be more appropriately dealt with through regulatory sanctions
  • That the criminal sanction route would indeed result in greater openness, both to confirm that it would have the intended effect, and to ensure that it would not lead to unintended consequences that undermine the intended effect, or are otherwise detrimental to patient care. (We provide more in-depth analysis of these issues under the relevant question.)
  • That there are no alternative, lighter-touch approaches that would be at least as effective.

Finally, it said that it “support the requirement within the statutory organisational duty that professionals should be provided with the support, training and guidance they need to comply with the duty” and it “recommend that the Government checks the proposals would not lead to discrimination against particular groups, as registrants within the remit of equality legislation may find it harder to speak out in their workplace.”

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