The NHS has “a legal duty to be honest about mistakes”

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The government has today announced a raft of measures intended to ensure that the NHS moves to eliminate lapses in patient care and safety. The most significant of these proposals is the legal duty of candour.

These plans are to ensure that a Mid Staffs care scandal, which saw patients suffer appalling care and contributed to the deaths of between 400 and 1,200 mostly elderly patients, doesn’t happen again.

Richard Harries, head of the Personal and Medical Injuries team at Barcan+Kirby says of the proposals:

“It has taken 10 years for the government to confirm that it will introduce a legal duty for doctors to inform patients of mistakes made regarding their care and treatment.

This duty of candour was recommended by the then Chief Medical Office, Liam Donaldson back in 2003. We have been lagging behind other countries, such as France and Denmark, both of which have already imposed a legal duty of candour.

It is likely that the legal duty to report mistakes or clinical incidents will in some circumstances help lawyers resolve claims more swiftly and more economically. It may also lead to a decline in legal claims as many of the clients we help turn to us with the overriding goal to learn the truth about their medical care.

We often find that until we become involved our clients do not always understand the way in which their medical treatment went wrong, which simply amplifies their frustration and anxiety. We believe that the legal duty of candour will go some way to preventing the injured person suffering additional unnecessary anxiety. 

Whilst we still need to pour over the detail of the government’s proposals in response to the Francis Report, this is an extremely welcome move towards improving patient safety and protecting patients. 

Peter Walsh and his team at AvMA have worked tirelessly to raise awareness and maintain pressure on the government to make this happen”

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