NHS doctors and nurses must apologise says Health Secretary

When things go wrong doctors and nurses must “say sorry” says Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, in order to end the endemic “culture of defensiveness” that became prevalent under the Labour government. Through this, the health secretary believes, the NHS can rebuild trust with its patients.

This worrying aversion to apologising seems to come from a fear of admitting legal liability for clinical mistakes or exacerbating the current situation, according to new guidance sent to every hospital in England and Wales. This new guidance makes it clear that in every situation where a doctor or nurse has failed in an aspect of patient care that “saying sorry is the right thing to do.”

These concerns over the culture and defensiveness of the NHS have come to the fore following a number of recent high profile NHS scandals, such as that in Stafford Hospital, in which it has been exposed that many patients have to put up with substandard treatment and a general lack of care.

The NHS Litigation Authority, following these concerns, has produced a leaflet for staff entitled “saying sorry”. This report recommends that NHS staff apologise personally to patients as soon as an incident has occurred. Following this it is suggested that the patient should be given a written apology which states clearly that the organisation is sorry for any distress that as resulted from the incident.

The rationale behind this suggested procedure is to pre-empt any medical legal claims that may arise out of frustration as an apology may make them less likely to pursue an action. The NHS Litigation Authority has stated that “saying sorry is not an admission of legal liability” but is “the right thing to do.”

Chief executive of the NHS Litigation Authority, Catherine Dixon, has described that the NHS is facing a 20 percent rise in claims against medical staff to about 12,000.

Recently £1.2 million has been paid out to 120 victims of poor care following the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust scandal. This was the largest ever group claim made against the NHS.

Well – what do you think about all that. Incredible. Firstly, the fact that they have to be trained to say sorry. So much for a caring profession. Secondly that it takes a four-page leaflet to do so! Thirdly, and this is probably the worst worrying factor – do you really believe that we would have got to this stage, without the huge publicity in 2012 for the series of tragic NHS scandals? These medical errors were nothing new – experienced medical negligence solicitors have known for a long time, where the poorly performing hospitals are, and statistical information on that has been published by the excellent Dr Foster website and research unit for many years. Let’s just hope that saying sorry is not going to be the only practical response. Hospitals have got to work hard to improve standards – not just ask for more and more cash. The first step is perhaps to make sure that these poorly performing hospitals start making sure they follow recommended good practice – in line with the clinical recommendations of Dr Foster.

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