Whenever there is a story in the news about a serious NHS failure involving avoidable harm or death, the phrase ‘lessons have been learned’ is invariably included as part of the organisation’s media response. It’s a phrase that I know can grate with patients and relatives who have been directly affected by such events. In recent years I’ve come to know the tragic stories of many people who have been affected by avoidable harm from healthcare and in my experience, the most important factor for the families involved is to know that changes have been made to prevent the same things happening to others in the future; to truly know that lessons have been learned. So why has this phrase become one that many people dislike and distrust?
Looking back on my own experience, losing a baby boy due to avoidable failures in care at Furness General Hospital (FGH) in 2008, I know that on many occasions we were told that lessons had been learned. In January 2010, more than a year after what happened, the chief executive at the time wrote the following in response to an article in the local paper about ongoing problems at the FGH unit: “Latest statistics show that FGH is among the safest places in England to have a baby… Today, FGH is a safer place as a result of the lessons learned…”