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NHS hospitals to adopt ‘Martha’s rule’ for granting urgent second opinion

Martha’s rule will allow patients and their loved ones to get a review of their condition and treatment directly from doctors and nurses not involved in the medical team treating them

From April, 100 NHS hospitals will introduce Martha’s rule, giving seriously ill patients easy access to a second opinion if their condition worsens.

Patients at the hospitals involved in the programme will gain 24/7 access to a critical care team of doctors and nurses from elsewhere in the building, who specialise in the care of patients who are deteriorating.

‘NHS teams have been piloting ways to better identify and respond in these cases, over the last year, and the rollout of a national programme to give patients and families 24-7 access to a rapid clinical review will now help ensure that those experiencing acute deterioration can be identified and treated much more quickly,’ said Amanda Pritchard, NHS England’s chief executive.

‘While the need for escalation will hopefully only be needed in a small number of cases, I have no doubt that the introduction of Martha's rule has the potential to save many lives in the future,’ she said.

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The roll out of this system comes after a campaign by the parents of Martha Mills, 13, who died after failure to treat her sepsis, despite her parents’ repeated concerns over her condition. An inquest later found that Martha would have survived if she had been moved to intensive care sooner.

According to NHS England, under this national programme, acute hospitals will receive government funding for posters and leaflets informing patients and their families that they can ‘directly ask a team of critical-care medics for a rapid review of treatment.’ Medics will also formally record families' observations of a patient's condition or behaviour.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said the service would be rolled out across England ‘step by step’. ‘This is something I believe very strongly in, and indeed the whole of government does, and so we will be rolling this out across England and supporting hospitals to make sure that this service is as we'd all expect it to be.’

‘Namely it is there to help divert the horrific circumstances that we saw happen to Martha are prevented and [to ensure] no other family has to go through what Merope and Paul have had to go through,’ said Atkins.

NHS England said the scheme rollout would be evaluated over the next year and may be followed by further funding to include all acute hospitals. Proposals to adapt it for community hospitals and mental-health trusts are also being considered by the NHS.