What is Martha's Rule – and how will the law change help us all?

worried mother and her daughter having a medical appointment with doctor
Martha's Rule - and how will it help us allskynesher - Getty Images

All too often we hear stories of people feeling dismissed by medical staff, or worse, sometimes losing a loved one due to them being given the wrong care, or receiving it too late. While of course it goes without saying we appreciate the NHS and all the doctors and nurses working tirelessly to save lives, a new piece of legislation – known as Martha's Rule – is set to be introduced to give some power back to patients and their families who do have concerns about their care.

Speaking from a woman's perspective, we're no strangers to feeling unheard, or like we're not being taken seriously when it comes to our health concerns. More than half (56%) of women say they felt their pain was ignored or dismissed by medical professionals, compared to 49% of men, while nearly two-thirds (63%) of women think men's pain is taken more seriously due to gender discrimination, Nurofen’s Gender Pain Gap Index Report found last year.

With that in mind, we welcome anything at all that can help change that for us and others, even if inadvertently.

Here's a look at what exactly Martha's Rule is and why it's being put in motion.

What is Martha's Rule?

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Steve Barclay, announced earlier this month that the government is committed to introducing Martha's Rule in hospitals in England. This new law is named after 13-year-old Martha Mills, who sadly passed away from sepsis that wasn't diagnosed in time (despite her parents raising the alarm to her care team), after campaigning from Martha's mother, journalist Merope Mills.

This new rule will give patients, families and carers the legal right to a second medical opinion in the same hospital if they believe their concerns are not being taken seriously.

So, in practice, this means they can contact an independent critical care team (with contact details given by hospital wards) to request a review of the patient's condition if they have such concerns or their condition is deteriorating.

This will be similar to legislation already enforced in other countries, like the three-step process, Ryan's Rule, in Queensland Australia.

male nurse helping patient fill out documents at the clinic reception desk
Willie B. Thomas - Getty Images

Why is Martha's rule being introduced?

It's been brought about after the parents of Martha Mills – who tragically died in 2021 after doctors didn't admit her to intensive care in time, despite repeat concerns being raised – campaigned for the change.

Martha was just 13 when she died after developing sepsis while in the care of King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in south London (which has since "issued an apology but kept its legal team close", mother Merope Mills wrote for The Guardian last year)

Martha had initially suffered a pancreatic injury after falling from her bike while on a family holiday in Wales. A coroner previously ruled that Martha probably would have survived if doctors had identified the warning signs of sepsis and admitted her to intensive care sooner.

A result of her efforts, Merope Mills has welcomed the news that Martha's Rule will now be introduced and has said she hopes it will "put some power back into the hands of patients and prevent unnecessary deaths", explaining Barclay is prioritising its introduction and is ready to allocate funds to the initiative.

How will Martha's Rule help?

It will hopefully make the healthcare system safer, and give patients and their families more power, ensuring the process of asking for a second opinion is smoother. Sometimes the "blind faith" (a term also used by Merope) we've been taught to put into doctors can be at our detriment, despite us knowing deep down that something isn't right.

While Martha's Rule has been introduced to help everyone, we hope it will also positively impact the care women receive, who are subject to the gender health gap. For instance, it takes women an average of 7.5 years to be diagnosed with endometriosis despite it being the second most common gynaecological condition in the UK, maternal mortality for Black women is four times higher than for white women, and medical students were only told last year they'll have to study women's health as part of their training (yep, really).

And again, while we hope Martha's Rule will benefit all patients as intended, we also hope it will build on any success from all the new NHS changes promised for women in July, and improve healthcare equality across the board.

For bereavement support services, visit the Mind website or NHS website.

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