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Doctors must be honest over Mistakes in Medical Treatment


    A government commissioned enquiry recommends the NHS must be open over certain mistakes in medical treatment.

    By Hannah Blackwell

Following the government’s response to the Mid Staffordshire Public Inquiry, Professor Norman Williams (President of the Royal College of Surgeons) and Sir David Dalton (Chief Executive of Salford Royal Hospital), were asked by the Secretary of State for Health to lead a review to enhance a duty of candour in the NHS when hospitals make mistakes in medical treatment.  Their report recommends that moderate as well as serious injury, or death, should lead to a statutory duty of candour that the Government is about to introduce.

A duty of candour would effectively require healthcare professionals to be open and honest with patients where they have suffered harm due to mistakes in medical treatment.  The move towards a legal duty of candour has been called for by the report of the Stafford Hospital Public Inquiry although the charity AVMA (Action against Medical Accidents), have been leading a campaign for this duty of candour for a number of years. Until now, it has been resisted by successive governments.

Even now, Ministers did not back the move in full for fear of more legal action being taken. Until AVMA’s intervention, it was intended to restrict the duty to fatal cases and those causing the most severe permanent disability.


The definition of cases to which the Duty of Candour will apply is now intended to be at the level of: ”death and serious injury, or death, serious injury, and moderate harm”.

It would seem that the definition will include those cases that lead to a patient suffering a serious birth injury, brain injury, spinal injury and death. It is understood that the ‘moderate injury’ with include patients who have suffered pressure sores due to poor hospital care. Put another way, NHS staff will be required to tell their patients about all but the most minor patient safety incidents.

It remains to be seen how this will be applied in practice and the government is expected to make a final decision as to how the statutory Duty of Candour will be implemented over the coming months.


Sadly, the Clinical Negligence Team have dealt with numerous cases where the NHS have denied mistakes in medical treatment for a number of years. This approach only adds the stressful situation patients find themselves in.  Patients feel as though they are ‘not believed’ by hospitals and doctors and that they are ‘covering up’ what happened to them. The Clinical Negligence Team have worked with client to support them through these difficult times and get the admissions of responsibility and apologies the patients deserve and also, where avoidable injury has been suffered, appropriate compensation.

While we would therefore welcome the introduction of a statutory duty of Candour and hope that it will be fully adopted and positively actioned, our view is that doctors and healthcare professionals should be open and honest with all patients when mistakes have occurred to help minimise what will have been, and, may continue to be a very distressing experience for patients.

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