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Communication is key: How a conversation can improve patient safety

Communication is key in all aspects of our daily life but no more so than in a medical setting. As a medical hegligence solicitor, I've supported a number of families where sadly a breakdown in communication has resulted in avoidable harm. 

A key example at present is in maternity care. The recent Ockenden inquiry at Shrewsbury and Telford hospitals highlighted failures in communication with patients not only in relation to the care but after an incident occurred. 

I've support families who will often inform me they have felt they have not been listened to during their pregnancy when they raised concerns or felt that no explanation was given to explain why they required the care they needed. Families who have suffered avoidable injuries tell me “I wish I had tried harder to make them listen”. 

Duty of candour 

Since 2014 providers of health and social care have had a duty of candour. This requires providers to act in an open and transparent way with people receiving care and treatment from them whether or not something has gone wrong.

Health watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) published guidance to healthcare providers. The CQC describes the duty of candour as one of the fundamental standards of the process which should never fail. 

An apology goes a long way

It highlights a crucial part of the duty of candour is the apology. There's often a misconception within the medical profession that apologising is an admission of liability in a legal claim. This is not the case. A simple apology to a patient who has suffered injury, whether avoidable or not, acknowledges the situation to them and can help the patient feel supported by their treating team.

I've worked with a number of clients who unfortunately describe clinicians as often becoming very limited in their communication or not communicating at all with a patient after an incident. This only increases the patient’s distress further and will often prompt a patient to speak to solicitors to seek answers which have not been provided by clinicians.

Open and honest conversations

An open and honest conversation with a patient after an avoidable injury not only supports that patient to understand their care and feel listened to; it also can prompt change to ensure improved patient safety in the future.

A clinician who is open with both the patient and the hospital when errors have been made often leads to serious incident investigations at a Hospital Trust. Serious incident investigations are a key part of improving patient safety - the care is investigated and often results in recommendations to improve care to avoid future incidents. Throughout this process it's crucial patients stories are heard to ensure the patient’s experience is considered when making the recommendations to improve patient care.

A patient centred and open approach to incidents is key for improving patient care and patient safety.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people following care issues and securing answers at our dedicated medical negligence section