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The NHS should apologise when medical accidents happen

Revised guidelines encourage openness about mistakes in NHS

Photo: istock

23 November 2009

The National reporting and Learning Service, part of the National Patient Safety Agency has reviewed and reissued the guidelines it originally produced in 2005 on communicating effectively with patients when things go wrong and has developed a new Being open framework. The new framework is a best practice guide for all healthcare staff, including boards, clinicians and PALS. It explains the principles behind Being open and outlines how to communicate with patients, their families and carers following harm.

Patient group, Action against Medical Accidents, welcomed the new guidance and said that it was very important for clinicians to be open, and that patients often felt much better if staff just owned up to mistakes and apologised.

This reflects the experience of the clinical negligence department at Leigh Day & Co. People who have been injured in a medical accident often feel that they are forced to turn to the law for some sort of remedy when a simple apology soon after the incident may have alleviated the need to get caught up in what can be a stressful and difficult process.

The new guidelines encourage NHS boards to make a public commitment to openness, honesty and transparency. Research shows that an transparent culture about medical errors in other countries may even reduce the number of formal complaints and legal actions.

Russell Levy, head of the clinical negligence department at Leigh Day and Honorary Secretary of the Clinical Disputes Forum, said:

"It is high time that doctors understand how important it is to patients that doctors step down from their pedestals and speak frankly, with candour, and apologise when things go wrong. It simply adds insult to injury when patients face a wall of silence after a medical accident".

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

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