Doctors 'Could Be Forced To Apologise’

Doctors Could Be Forced To Apologise To Patients If They Make Mistakes

11.09.2014

Doctors who make mistakes when treating a patient could face tougher sanctions and be forced to apologise, according to the General Medical Council (GMC).

Plans are being considered by the GMC, to restrict medical staff who have caused harm to patients from practice, even if they have been retrained or significantly improved. The regulator could also force doctors to apologise to the patient that they treated even if they had previously refused to do so.

The GMC, which regulates all doctors in the UK, aims to protect patients who have suffered harm due to patient safety breaches - although it is keen to offer redress in cases where things have gone wrong.

Stricter measures are to be put in place that will allow the GMC to suspend doctors and remove them from a working register if they fail to apologise, while another plan involves issues penalties to medical staff who fail to report colleagues who are not practicing safely.

Chief executive of GMC, Niall Dickson, acknowledges that doctors are among the most trusted professionals in any sector and that in many cases of clinical errors sanctions are not necessary. However, he believes that there must be "stronger action" in more serious cases.

Clare Gerada, medical director of the NHS practitioner health programme, supports doctors and believes that the GMC has a difficult job as it could “traumatise” medical staff who carry out practices safely everyday.

Dr Gerada also commented: "Of course it's important that we take into account the patient and we look at the damage that's been done to the patient, but it's also important that whatever sanction is a proportionate sanction, is a fair sanction."

Recently, five women were found to have breast cancer after being given the all-clear by the same doctor.
The medic is still employed by the trust where the false negatives were given.

Overall, thirty female patients have been recalled by Oxford University Trust Hospital for breast cancer checks over the possibility that they were given the wrong information.

It has not yet been confirmed by the medical centre whether the doctor will face disciplinary action - although under the proposed GMC changes the employee could be forced to apologise.

Expert Opinion
A huge number of cases in which we act revolve around circumstances when a person has suffered serious injury or illness – in some cases resulting in death – as a result of failings in treatment and care that should have been avoided.

"While often nothing can be done to change what has happened to those affected by such problems, they often want answers regarding why they have faced the issues and what ultimately will be done to prevent the same issues from arising in the future – as well as an apology regarding what they have faced.

"These recommendations from the GMC could be an important step towards ensuring that patients feel, where necessary, they can get the apologies that they so often want in order to start to move forward with what they have been through. However, it is of course vital that any sanctions are proportionate to the scale of the issues which have arisen.”

"As ever, the focus should remain on ensuring that patient safety is always the priority in healthcare."
Luke Daniels, Partner