Medic Assistance Scheme Says Doctors May Be Forced to Apologise for Mistakes

GMC’s public consultation includes the question: “Do you think Panels should require a doctor to apologise where patients have been harmed?”


Nottingham, Nottinghamshire -- (ReleaseWire) -- 10/31/2014 --The GMC (General Medical Council) regulates doctors in the UK, the council issue guidance for fitness to practise hearings. The purpose of fitness to practise hearings is for a Panel to decide if a doctor’s fitness to practise is impaired and if so, what the appropriate sanction for that doctor should be. The most serious sanction is erasure, which prevents them from working as a doctor in the UK.

The current requirement documented in ‘Good Medical Practice’ is that doctors must be open and honest with patients when things go wrong and offer an apology when a patient under their care suffers harm or distress. However the GMC does not currently have the power to force a doctor to apologise to patients, the councils lack of power on this matter is something that patients can find very frustrating. The GMC are consulting on the question of if doctors should be forced to apologise, particularly in circumstances whereby a serious clinical error has negative consequences for a patient’s quality of life or life expectancy.

The Francis report following the widely published failures by the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, recommended a duty of candour for health professionals, to encourage a culture of openness and honesty to be come normal. The GMC are therefore looking into the role that an apology from doctors should play in their processes.

Most people would agree that an apology is simply basic manners and that in circumstances where a patient has suffered undeniable harm, as a result of a doctor’s error, an apology is called for. When many patients complain about doctors, what they really want is an acknowledgement of what happened to them was an error, followed by a genuine apology.

Historically some doctors have been reluctant to apologise, not due to arrogance but under advice that it will adversely impact on their NHS Trust or their insurance company. However common sense should prevail and concerns over liability should perhaps take second place to common decency. Depending on the outcome of the GMC’s consultation, in the future doctors may have no choice but to apologise, although how genuine and therefore beneficial to a patient an apology is when it is ordered by a panel, perhaps remains to be seen.

About The GMC
The GMC will publish a report on the outcome of their consultation and using these findings will amend their guidance. The Medic Assistance Scheme ran by Marie Dancer, a Partner at Richard Nelson LLP, provides advice to all healthcare professionals on regulatory matters, including fitness to practise investigations and can advise doctors on circumstances where an apology is appropriate.