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Lifting anonymity is counter-productive to safety

Taking away the opportunity to report patient safety incidents anonymously benefits no one, says David Reissner

According to data published in August by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, although the NHS received 60,000 written complaints about GPs and dentists last year, the number of complaints against pharmacists was insignificant. However, there must have been more patient safety incidents than pharmacies are reporting to the National Patient Safety Agency.  


The NHS terms of service have for a long time required the reporting of all patient safety incidents, but pharmacies have reported on average fewer than one per pharmacy. If we assume that each pharmacy encounters more than one error a year, it follows that errors are being under-reported, even though pharmacies have until now been free to report incidents anonymously to avoid the risk of prosecution or fitness-to-practise proceedings.  


As part of the 2014-15 NHS funding deal announced last month by PSNC, pharmacies reporting incidents will in future have to identify themselves. However, they will only have to report incidents that did or could have led to patient harm. Near misses, such as picking errors that are identified and corrected during checking procedures need not be reported.

I would like NHS England to be open and honest, and admit that taking away the opportunity to report patient safety incidents anonymously is counter-productive


NHS England believes improving error reporting will show patient safety is at the heart of pharmacists' work but the right to anonymity will be removed "to allow easier shared learning". I do not see how taking away the right to report errors anonymously will allow other pharmacists to learn from the mistakes of others. There is no right to avoid self-incrimination, so requiring pharmacies to identify themselves is more likely to discourage error reporting at a time when the NHS is trying to improve it.


Allied to the subject of error reporting, the GPhC has recently put its name to a joint statement by all statutory healthcare regulators on the requirement for a duty of candour. Although this key theme of the Francis Report is not yet enshrined in law, the regulators say every healthcare professional must:

● tell the patient when something has gone wrong ● apologise to the patient ● offer an appropriate remedy (if possible) ● explain fully to the patient the short- and long-term effects of what has happened.


I believe this is the right way forward. I would like NHS England to be open and honest and admit that taking away the opportunity to report patient safety incidents anonymously is likely to be counter-productive.  

David Reissner is senior healthcare partner at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys LLP ([email protected])


More from David Reissner:

A fresh approach to PNAs is essential

Time and tide waits for no man - or e-cigarettes

GPhC's FTP committee is one step ahead of the law



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