Back to Blog

The Health Service and the Honesty "Challenge"

Honesty – holding your hand up and admitting that you’ve done something wrong – is an important part of personal and professional life.

Even if grave mistakes have been made, people can hold on to at least some of their integrity if they show genuine contrition.

It’s especially true in the National Health Service, given that errors can have calamitous, long-lasting and even fatal consequences.

My colleagues and I in JMW’s Clinical Negligence team have represented large numbers of patients who have been seriously injured as a consequence of medical errors and made a complaint to the hospital where they were treated, only to be dismissed and told that nothing has gone wrong.

The main priority of patients is to find answers, have someone admit a failure and learn from it so that others do not also have to suffer.

It is often that inability to disclose the details of what’s happened that almost forces people to resort to legal action.

Authorities too recognise the difficulties. The chief executive of the General Medical Council has called the lack of apology “one of the biggest challenges facing our healthcare system and a major impediment to safe, effective care.”

In my opinion, he is certainly not wrong. Something, though, is being done to change that.

Two months ago, a rule came into force which required NHS and private healthcare bodies to swiftly admit whenever mistakes were made. Now, it’s being extended to individual doctors, nurses and midwives.

They’re all being provided with detailed guidance about how to apologise, including specific phrases to include in a face-to-face discussion with patients and their families, such as “I am sorry”.

I believe that they should not need encouragement or compulsion to apologise but that, in a well-run health service, there shouldn’t be mistakes which need to be apologised for either.

Nevertheless, I’m sure that patients will consider the new requirement to be a step in the right direction.

An environment in which health service staff feel that it’s okay to admit to and discuss mistakes means that people know about what’s gone wrong. Once they know, they can take action in order to prevent a repeat.

Openness can undoubtedly improve patient safety. It also means that those who have suffered because of mistakes are not forced to wait a considerable amount of time to learn details of what happened.

If you would like to discuss this or any other legal issue please contact us using the form. 

Share this