Martha’s Rule: A Lifeline for Patients and Families in the NHS
By Lauren Amphlett

Martha’s Rule is a proposed healthcare initiative in the United Kingdom that aims to empower patients and their families with the right to seek a second medical opinion. Named after Martha Mills, a 13-year-old girl who tragically died from preventable sepsis, the rule is gaining traction and support, including the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and Healthwatch. Here, we look at Martha’s Rule’s significance and potential impact on the NHS and patient care.

The Tragic Case of Martha Mills

Martha Mills was a 13-year-old girl enjoying a family holiday in Wales when she sustained a severe injury to her pancreas after falling from her bike. She was admitted to King’s College Hospital in London, a specialist centre for children with pancreatic issues. Despite several opportunities to escalate her care, Martha’s deteriorating condition was not adequately addressed. She developed sepsis and passed away, a tragedy that an inquest later ruled could have been prevented with better care.

What is Martha’s Rule?

Martha’s Rule aims to serve as an extra safeguard for patients or their loved ones who want a second opinion about treatment options, particularly when there is a suspected deterioration or serious concern. The rule would shift the balance of power from medical discretion to the patient or their family, enabling them to trigger a request for a second clinical opinion directly.

Support and Advocacy

Rob Behrens of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has expressed full support for the introduction of Martha’s Rule. He emphasised the need for patients to be listened to, citing numerous cases where patients were failed by their doctors due to a lack of attention. Healthwatch also backs the initiative, highlighting its potential to save lives if implemented correctly. 

International Precedents

Similar systems exist globally, including a measure in Australia known as “Ryan’s Rule,” named after Ryan Saunders, who died from an undiagnosed streptococcal infection. The rule allows patients or their families to request a clinical review if their condition deteriorates. 

Future Prospects

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has tasked officials with exploring the feasibility of implementing Martha’s Rule in the UK. The rule could be a significant step forward in improving patient safety and ensuring that the voices of patients and their families are heard.

Martha’s Rule has the potential to be a transformative addition to the UK’s healthcare system, offering a lifeline to patients and families who feel their concerns are not being adequately addressed. As the NHS continues to evolve, implementing such a rule could be pivotal in ensuring that no more lives are lost due to medical oversight.

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