Labour backs call for ‘Martha’s rule’ on right to second medical opinion


Labour would back the government if it introduced a “Martha’s rule” in England to make it easier for patients and their families who believe their concerns are not being taken seriously by medical staff to get a second medical opinion.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, said he was moved to tears listening to the mother of Martha Mills, who died when doctors failed to admit her to intensive care.

Martha, who would have been 16 on Monday, died in 2021 after developing sepsis while under the care of King’s College hospital NHS foundation trust in south London.

An inquest heard there were several opportunities to refer Martha to intensive care but this did not happen. The trust has since apologised for mistakes in Martha’s care.

The health secretary, Steve Barclay, has said he is considering such a move.

Streeting said Labour would back the government if it introduced Martha’s rule – or deliver such a move if the party were to come to power next year.

He said: “It’s not often I cry listening to the Today programme, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only Today listener moved to tears by the heartbreaking testimony about what Martha’s family had been through as a result of a tragedy that might well have been avoided had the family been listened to and had they known their rights.

“Off the back of it we’ve got to take action.”

He continued: “One of my reflections listening to Merope’s experience as a mother … this is someone very capable of articulating for herself, very confident working in a professional environment which can be quite argy-bargy – if someone like her didn’t know her rights, and wasn’t able to get NHS to listen to her and listen to the family what hope is there for some of the constituents I represent who struggle to articulate, to get a hearing at all?

Streeting said the right to a second opinion should be written into the NHS constitution and the right should be displayed across the NHS estate so patients and their families know how to exercise their rights.

“I’m only too sorry it’s taken a tragedy like this and a family speaking about their pain to force action,” he added. “I’m optimistic the government will do the right thing.”

A coroner ruled last year the 13-year-old would most probably have survived if doctors had identified the warning signs and transferred her to intensive care earlier.

Martha was being looked after at King’s after sustaining a pancreatic injury after falling from her bike while on a family holiday in Wales. King’s is a specialist national referral centre for children with pancreatic problems.

A spokesperson at King’s said the trust remained “deeply sorry that we failed Martha when she needed us most”.

In a statement, the trust said clinical improvements had been made after Martha’s death. These included mandatory sepsis training for all clinical staff in paediatrics, the creation of a new team reviewing any seriously unwell children and formal documentation of any parental concerns.

The spokesperson added: “These are just some of the measures we have put in place and our teams will continue to do everything they can to improve the care we provide as a result of learnings from Martha’s sad death.”