After a long period of campaigning by her family, a rule named after Martha Mills, looks set to be introduced by NHS England, following an announcement by the Health Secretary, Steve Barclay.

Who was Martha Mills?

Martha Mills a 13-year-old girl who died in the summer of 2021 because of a failure by King’s College Hospital to treat severe sepsis.

Martha’s Rule

Martha’s mother Marope has been campaigning for the NHS to introduce Martha’s Rule which aims to amplify the patient voice and improve safety in hospitals.  It is hoped this will be achieved by formalising the existing right for patients or their families to obtain a second opinion if it is felt that they are not being listened to or their concerns are not being taken seriously. 

It is quite often the case that patients and their families feel that they cannot question the expertise of the clinicians’ providing treatment for fear of challenging –  Martha’s Rule would aim to eliminate this.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a medical emergency but with a timely diagnosis and efficient treatment lives and limbs can be saved.  Unfortunately, more than 14,000 deaths and many more permanent life-changing injuries in the UK would be avoided each year if there was increased awareness of the condition.

What were the recomendations?

Marope and Demos, a leading UK Think Tank, published a joint report with the following 3 recommendations

  • NHS England should develop a best practice guidance to allow hospitals to adopt this system as soon as possible
  • Hospitals should adopt Martha’s Rule as a matter of urgency and communicate it clearly to patients
  • The Care Quality Commission, that inspects hospitals, should consider Martha’s Rule standard practice in inspections and include their implementation in inspections

The report also suggests that the referral point should be independent and reliable as well communicating the new process effectively to patients, their families and all staff.

at the heart of every interaction in a hospital is not a prescription, or an act of surgery or a diagnosis.  It is a relationship between a medic and a patient, and sometimes their family or carer.  The evidence is clear: poor communications in hospitals – between medics and patients and their families – is a factor in too many avoidable deaths. Demos report published 4 September 2023

The report refers to other successful schemes worldwide.  A UK Call 4 Concern (C4C) pioneered by Royal Berkshire NHS Trust in 2009 had a huge positive impact on patient outcomes. It provided 24/7 access to a Critical Care Outreach team who could provide advice if there was a clinical concern not being recognised or addressed adequately. Similar schemes have been put in place in Australia (Ryan’s Rule) following an undiagnosed streptococcal infection leading to Ryan’s death at the age of 2 years in 2007  A similar system in the US allows patients  to contact a dedicated telephone line for and input  by an independent nurse, midwife, or doctor following the death of an 18 month old girl who died following dehydration and wrongly administered medication..

Patients and families should be heard, feel supported and empowered to ask questions and if appropriate seek input from other professionals from a different team outside of the team providing the care – hopefully the implementation of Martha’s Rule would provide huge reassurance and save lives.

Here to support you

We’re specialist medical negligence solicitors and if you or your loved ones have been affected by a misdiagnosis of sepsis, we offer a free case review or second opinion if you’ve already tried to bring a claim.

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