Apology and Liability in Clinical Negligence

The desire for a meaningful apology may be an understandable reason for considering making a claim; patients, or their families, who have suffered as a result of substandard treatment from the medical professions are likely to feel some comfort in the explanation and regret communicated by an apology.

More than half of the complaints examined in a 2008 report from the Healthcare Commission included a request for an apology. As a result, the body highlighted the importance of apologies being issued by doctors where appropriate.

Similarly, the guidance offered by the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA), the body that represents NHS Trusts in claims involving medical negligence, states openly that it is "natural and desirable" for clinicians to apologise over adverse outcomes, and that doing so "do[es] not constitute an admission of liability". It adds that the NHSLA has no policy of disputing payment on the grounds of an apology having been made. The section within this guidance regarding detailed explanations does, however, indicate that these should be issued as factual information and "should not contain admissions of liability."

The NHSLA guidance was reissued in May 2009 with endorsement from bodies including the Medical Defence Union, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and the National Patient Safety Agency.

Mediation is a viable alternative to a legal claim, particularly where the pursuit of an apology is a driving force behind a potential claimant's complaint. It is worth underlining, however, that a mediation process leading to an apology does not preclude the possibility of securing maximum levels of compensation.


JMW Solicitors' Clinical Negligence department has a strong record of success for its clients in civil claims and in mediation processes. With membership of the referral panels of the Law Society and the charity Action against Medical Accidents, and a franchise from the Legal Services Commission, the team provides the expertise to support claimants in their pursuit of justice in this complex area of UK law.

Fully aware of the importance of client care, the partner-led department provides sympathetic nurse support to claimants alongside its high-quality legal services, and has been congratulated on its "exemplary level of care".

For further information regarding the ways in which JMW's specialists can assist in the pursuit of a claim, please contact us on 0800 054 6512.

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