New Call For NHS Staff To Say Sorry When Things Go Wrong

Leaflet advises ‘Saying Sorry Is The Right Thing To Do’


The Health Secretary has called for doctors and nurses to be more open, honest and ‘say sorry’ to patients when there are failures in patient care.

Jeremy Hunt confirmed new recommendations will be sent to every hospital in England and Wales to help win back trust in the NHS.

To address the concerns the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA), the body which oversees claims made against the health service, has produced a four-page leaflet for staff entitled "saying sorry".

It recommends that staff should make face-to-face apologies to patients ‘as soon as staff are aware an incident has occurred’.

It also advises that patients should subsequently be given a written apology, adding that it is not like a car insurer, which can ‘withhold a claim because an apology or explanation has been given’. ‘Saying sorry is not an admission of legal liability’, the leaflet says. ‘It is the right thing to do.’

The new guidance follows on from a series of NHS scandals during 2013 which saw a Public Inquiry into the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust where up to 1,200 patients died. A further 11 Trusts were put into special measures following concerns over their high mortality rates.

In response to the Francis inquiry into care failings at Stafford hospital, a ‘statutory duty of candour’ was introduced, meaning families must be informed if errors in treatment cause death or serious injury.

Catherine Dixon, chief executive of the NHS Litigation Authority, 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."

Expert Opinion
“We welcome this change in stance and new guidance to NHS staff which follows on from our calls for a statutory duty of candour to be implemented across all levels of the NHS.

“For many of our clients money is a secondary factor, they turn to us frustrated by the lack of transparency from doctors and nurses when mistakes have been made and legal action is often the only option for them in getting answers about why their care was substandard.

“Mistakes can and will happen, but being offered an apology by those responsible will reassure patients and their families that what has happened is being taken seriously.

“They also then need to know that improvements are being made and lessons learnt to prevent the same mistakes from being repeated and other families suffering in the same way.”
Lisa Jordan, Partner