HOSPITALS could be fined up to £10,000 and senior staff and directors could face jail for providing false and misleading data in regard to clinical failings under new plans to tackle any perceived "cover-up" culture in the NHS.
New laws expected in April will target directors or other senior staff at NHS organisations who "consent or connive" in the provision of false or misleading information, with individuals subject to an unlimited fine or imprisonment for up to two years.
The Department of Health is also consulting on plans to require hospitals to reimburse the NHS Litigation Authority up to £10,000 for each clinical negligence case in which they have failed to demonstrate openness and honesty after a significant clinical mistake.
The new laws have emerged from recommendations made by the Francis inquiry into failings at the Stafford Hospital where misleading and dishonest information was given to regulators and the public about the trust’s poor performance.
The new requirements will apply only to information specified in the regulations which includes mortality figures, data submitted to the Health and Social Care Information Centre, quality accounts, complaints data, cancer outcomes data as well as national cancer waiting times, and national audits, including diabetes and maternity services.
Health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: "Being open and learning from mistakes is crucial in improving patient care. The NHS is a world class health service, but when mistakes happen it is vital that we face them head on and learn so they are never repeated.
"This sends a strong message that covering up mistakes will not be tolerated."