Medical practitioners must tell patients if they make a mistake and apologise, even if the patient has not been harmed as a result.

The guidance regarding a ‘professional duty of candour’ has been introduced after a report into the Mid Staffordshire scandal criticised medical staff for concealing details of poor care.

Frontline staff “who do not feel able to apologise” will be trained to speak to a patient as soon as it becomes apparent that a mistake has been made.

Staff must say “sorry”, explaining what has happened, what can be done to resolve the matter, and how they will prevent the same mistake occurring in the future. If patients wish, the apology can be put in writing.

The joint guidance has been created by the General Medical Council (GMC) and the Nursing and Midwifery Council. It states:

“Every healthcare professional must be open and honest with patients when something that goes wrong with their treatment or care causes, or has the potential to cause, harm or distress.”

“The result of an oppressive culture”

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: “Patients deserve a clear and honest explanation if something has gone wrong with their care. This is why, for the first time, we are collaborating on this new joint guidance.”

“It will ensure that doctors, nurses and midwives are working to a common standard and will know exactly what their responsibilities are.”

Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association’s governing council, said “problems were often the result of an oppressive culture and poor systems created by bosses.”

This was iterated by Mr Dickson, who said: “None of this will work without an open and honest learning culture, and we know from the Mid Staffordshire inquiry and from our own work with healthcare professionals that too often such a culture does not prevail.”

The guidance is currently out for consultation.

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