Martha’s Rule backed by UK Government: what this means for patients and families
In 2021, Martha Mills fell off her bike and suffered a laceration to her pancreas. She was admitted to King’s College Hospital, a specialist centre for children with pancreatic injuries. Her condition was not deemed life-threatening, however, when her condition deteriorated, her parents raised concerns, which were repeatedly brushed off by doctors. Martha died from sepsis days later.
Martha’s mother, Merope Mills, has campaigned ever since for the NHS to bring in Martha’s Rule; an initiative that gives patients and their families more power to seek a second opinion when they feel they aren’t being heard by their current doctor.
On 14th September 2023, Health Secretary Steve Barclay met with Merope and agreed to back Martha’s Rule.
What is Martha’s Rule and how can it help patients and families?
After her daughter died from sepsis, which could have been treated and was deemed by the coroner to be avoidable, Merope worked hard campaigning for Martha’s Rule. This new law gives everyone in England the legal right to seek a second opinion from another specialist doctor based in the same hospital who is independent of the team treating the patient, or alternatively, the right to seek a rapid review by a separate clinical team.
The UK Sepsis Trust reports that there are around 48,000 deaths attributed to sepsis annually in the UK and approximately 25% of these would have been preventable with a timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
How can Martha’s Rule help patients and their families?
Martha’s case is a harsh reminder that sepsis still goes unnoticed, despite clear warning signs. Raising awareness of sepsis and its symptoms is vital, and there is no doubt that campaigns such as World Sepsis Awareness Day help with this. However, unfortunately, the diagnosis of sepsis is sometimes delayed or missed by medical professionals, and this is where Martha’s Rule and an emphasis on seeking a second opinion can be invaluable.
Some NHS Trusts in England have already introduced a system called ‘Call 4 Concern’, which enables patients and families to access a critical care team where they feel their concerns about a family member are not being addressed. This was first pioneered at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.
A seven-year review of the scheme demonstrated that 95% of the calls placed were using the service appropriately and that in a fifth of those cases, significant interventions were required.
The NHS has a Quality, Service Improvement and Redesign tool known as ‘Fresh Eyes’ which encourages members of staff to invite other members of staff to discuss challenges they face.
Medical staff should not feel undermined in any way by a request for a second opinion; most recognise that a fresh pair of eyes is often needed to look over our work and spot any errors.
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