Saying sorry – the right thing to do?

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has said that doctors and nurses must ‘say sorry’ when mistakes are made in order to end the culture of defensiveness in parts of the NHS. He aims to transform this culture by creating greater transparency in hospitals and supporting and encouraging staff to do the right thing.

The NHSLA has released guidance, which emphasises this message by reassuring clinicians that saying sorry is not an admission of liability, but is the right thing to do. There are growing concerns about patient welfare and lack of transparency when mistakes are made. At the Mid Staffordshire Hospital a high profile enquiry found that 1,200 patients had died unnecessarily and many more were “failed by a system which ignored the warning signs and put corporate self-interest and cost control ahead of patients and their safety.” A further 11 Trusts have since been placed in to special measures, after an official investigation highlighted concerns about high mortality rates.

What does the NHSLA recommend?

The NHSLA guidance recommends that a verbal apology should be communicated as soon as staff become aware of an incident, followed by a written apology.  Apologies should be  provided by an appropriately nominated person. Who this will be will depend on the individual case. Important factors include relationship to the patient, seniority and experience.

Catherine Dixon, Chief Executive of the NHSLA, said: “Saying sorry is the human and moral thing to do, we won’t say we’re not going to cover you because you’ve said sorry”. “In cases where people perhaps bring a claim out of frustration, because they don’t feel that they’ve been given an explanation or that their complaints have been heard, an apology may make them less likely to pursue an action”. “We actively support organisations being open, transparent and candid with their patients. We have seen some cases where that hasn’t happened in the NHS. It’s important that we create and support the right culture.   It can win back people’s trust.”

The NHSLA guidance suggests that a local policy which explains the process of communication with patients would help equip staff with the necessary confidence to effectively communicate with patients. Please contact Hempsons if you require assistance with drafting such policies.

Click here to read our articles on: The Jackson Reforms one year on, the importance of being compliant, hospital chains, persistent litigants, CCG governance, Monitor’s latest procurement guidance, and the future of the stethoscope.

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