Theresa May backs campaign for Martha’s rule of second medical opinion


Theresa May has backed the campaign for Martha’s rule in England to make it easier for patients and their families to get a second medical opinion when they believe their concerns are not being taken seriously by medical staff.

The former prime minister said “more needs to be done” and that such a move “might see fewer deaths”.

“It is so good that Martha’s mother, Merope, is actually out there campaigning for something to be done about this,” she told the BBC’s Political Thinking with Nick Robinson podcast. “I wish she wasn’t in the position of having to do that.

“But she is putting herself forward and I think she’s absolutely right. More needs to be done to ensure that in those circumstances, families have a means of raising the alarm.”

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.

Martha’s mother, Merope Mills – a senior editor at the Guardian – and her husband, Paul Laity, are calling for Martha’s rule to be put in place so that patients, families and care workers will be able to easily request a second opinion from a senior doctor in the same hospital in the event of a suspected deterioration or serious concern.

May added: “This is something that needs to be generally available. And I absolutely agree with Martha’s mother. It can’t include questionnaires for the families. It has to be clear, everybody has to know about it and it has to be a swift process. And if that can be put in place, I know the government’s looking at it.

“It’s got to be clear. It’s got to be understandable and it’s got to be swift. And then we might see fewer deaths.”

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.

Calls for Martha’s rule to be introduced has already received the backing of Labour and government ministers are understood to be considering a law.

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, said a similar measure enforced in Australia had been shown to have saved lives. He said officials had been tasked with looking into whether such initiatives could “improve patient safety here in the UK”.

Merope Mills said: “Even if you were to give the doctors the benefit of the doubt and say they were trying not to worry us, the result is that they did not give us any agency in demanding the correct treatment for our daughter – and that control, that overconfidence in yourself and your decision making – is absolutely fine if the system works perfectly, but the system is so far from perfect.”

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”.