Doctors Told To Say Sorry For Mistakes

Patients To Get Apologies Under New General Medical Council Guidelines

13.06.2014

Patients who are harmed or distressed by the actions of doctors or nurses should receive an apology when this occurs, the General Medical Council (GMC) has said.

The new guidance has set out instructions for NHS workers focused on the dignity of patients and the need for staff to have the humility to admit mistakes, rather than not acknowledging failings due to the fear of possible legal action.

It states: "You must be open and honest with patients if things go wrong. If a patient under your care has suffered harm or distress you must put matters right, if that is possible; offer an apology; explain fully and promptly what has happened and the likely short-term and long-term effects."

The updated GMC guidance is contained in section 55 of the code of good medical practice, which is one of three items listed under the heading of "respect for patients". The others include not using a professional position to pursue "a sexual or improper emotional relationship" with a patient, plus a statement that staff should also not cause distress or exploit vulnerability through the expression of personal beliefs.

An acknowledgement of responsibility by doctors may lead to a culture change and less defensiveness by them, at a time when the need for this shift in approach has been recognised by the government and medical professionals as a key issue in the wake of the Mid-Staffordshire scandal.

Another measure taken with the issue of responsibility in mind is the new guidance from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges that every patient should have a stipulated doctor responsible for their care, described as the 'name over the bed' initiative.

Welcoming this plan, the GMC chair of council Peter Rubin commented: "Being in hospital can be a worrying experience for many and this new role should provide reassurance to patients and their families."

He added that the GMC has produced a new guide to help doctors to implement the new initiative effectively.

Expert Opinion
We welcome this change and new guidance to staff and which should be implemented across all levels of the NHS.

“For many of our clients, 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.”
Julie Lewis, Partner