Healthcare professionals are committed to delivering good care to their patients. Their first principle is to “do no harm” and the majority of the millions of people using healthcare services in the UK today will have a good experience.
Unfortunately, sometimes things do go wrong in the course of medical treatment. When that happens, and someone is harmed, healthcare professionals have an obligation under the professional duty of candour to be open and honest about what has happened. That obligation applies whether the patient has made a complaint or not.
The duty of candour includes a duty to:
- Inform the patient and their family of what happened
- Apologise to the patient for the error
- Explain to the patient what can be done to deal with any harm caused
- Inform the patient about what will be done to prevent someone else being harmed
- Provide support to the patient and to the professionals involved
The Government introduced an obligation in 2015 on all NHS providers to be open and honest in their dealings with patients. This was a response to the Francis Report into serious failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust between 2005 and 2009. The report, published in 2013, examined what led to poor standards of care at the hospital, unnecessary patient deaths and why the warning signs of serious failings were not recognised. Perhaps by design, the duty of candour, was introduced at the same time as the report of the investigation into the care provided by the maternity and neonatal services of the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust. This report was another sad indictment of serious failings in maternity care at an NHS Trust.
Since then there has been need for other enquiries, such as the investigation into avoidable harm to mothers and babies at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS trust launched in 2017. That investigation was initially set up to investigate the care received by 23 families. According to BBC news, it is now looking at nearly 1,200 cases.
In our experience, there has been little use of the duty of candour until recently. We have been approached by several patients who have received a “duty of candour letter”. From this experience we know that for some patients it is enough to understand what happened and why, and also that steps will be taken to stop someone else being harmed in this way. For others, however, the duty of candour letter has been a means to begin the process to get financial redress when they have suffered serious harm as a result of a medical accident.
If you or a member of your family have suffered significant and life changing injuries as a result of substandard care, Tozers’ experienced Clinical Negligence Team are here to help. We will deal with your enquiry sensitively and let you know whether you are entitled to compensation for your injuries.