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NHS medical director backs Martha’s rule

NHS medical director backs Martha’s rule
By Jess Hacker
11 September 2023

A senior NHS executive has signalled support for ‘Martha’s rule’, which would require hospitals to offer patients a second opinion in urgent cases.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme (11 September), national medical director Sir Stephen Powis backed the proposition which is named for Martha Mills, 13, who died after contracting sepsis in an NHS hospital.

A coroner, last year, ruled that Ms Mills would likely have survived if doctors had transferred her to intensive care earlier.

Sir Stephen today agreed when asked if he supported Ms Mills’ mother’s call for a second opinion to be triggered by the patients without agreement from a doctor.

He said: ‘Yes, absolutely, and what we need to do now is work on which process or combination of processes need to be in place to make that happen, how it needs to be available over what many hours of the day, [and] what teams provide it.’

When asked why a ‘variety of models’ would need to be in place, he added: ‘It could be one process but of course every hospital is different and we want to see how this works in mental health settings and community settings, and it may be that different processes work better [there].’

Sir Stephen also said that ‘clearly in Martha’s case there should have been recognition that sepsis had occurred, that there was deterioration and there should have been escalation to the intensive care unit’.

He added the patient voice in such cases should be ‘paramount’ and added that NHS England has been working over the last six months to work out what methodology or process would elevate that voice when needed.

Health secretary Steve Barclay last week told the Commons he was considering introducing a ‘Martha’s rule’ based on the Australian system where patients can request a clinical review via a phone call.

Labour later responded to Today programme interview saying they would write it into the NHS constitution if the Government did not act.

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