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Third of doctors worried about consequences of admitting mistakes


By Jess Hacker
23 September 2021

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Nearly a third of GPs, consultants and specialist doctors are concerned about the consequences of admitting to errors, a survey has indicated.

Conducted by the Medical Defence Union (MDU) among 418 members, the survey found that 98% were familiar with the statutory duty of candour, which requires organisations to be open and honest with patients if they experience moderate harm after an incident.

However, while 71% said they had no concerns about always being open and honest after an incident, nearly a third (29%) reported sometimes feeling unable to do so because they were worried about a patient’s reaction, being blamed or the risk of facing a claim for negligence.

The MDU called on legislators to ensure no obstacles remain in place which might severe open communication between professionals and patients when something goes wrong.

Dr Michael Devlin, head of professional standards and liaison at the MDU, said that although apologising is not an admission of legal liability for what has happened a ‘significant minority of doctors still harbour concerns about what might happen’ if they do.

‘There remains much work to be done to ensure that an open and learning culture becomes the new norm in the NHS,’ he said.

The legal duty of candour has been in place in England for six years and in Scotland for three, with a similar plan expected for Wales in 2022.

However, the government in Northern Ireland is consulting currently on proposals a duty of candour which, if breached, could find individuals or organisations guilty of a criminal offence.

Dr Devlin said this could be counterproductive, explaining that ‘History has taught us that criminalising medical errors of judgement does not make patient care safer’.

He added: ‘We believe it would have a chilling effect on the profession and be counterproductive to achieving the open and honest culture needed to put patient safety at the front and centre of everything we do.’

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