When patients’ lives are shattered by NHS negligence, they need financial support to get back on track. That is their right, and one which we are committed to protect.
But financial support is not the only form of redress available. Sometimes an apology, an acknowledgement that something has gone wrong which should not have gone wrong, can be a powerful tool in helping injured patients come to terms with what has happened and start to rebuild their lives.
The NHS has a duty of candour to patients, which involves being transparent when something goes wrong, offering an apology, support where possible, and a full explanation of both the short and long term effects of what has happened.
Our members report that application of the duty of candour is rare. This is pretty short-sighted when you consider that, four years ago, NHS Resolution (which represents the NHS when claims are made against it) published a report which examined the motivations of injured patients when making claims. When asked to select all the reasons for making a claim, 80 per cent of respondents included ‘to get an apology’. Only 41 per cent included ‘to get financial compensation’.
Sir Robert Francis QC who, among other work, chaired the two Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust inquiries has also explored this theme. He has said that, in his experience “so many victims wanted but were denied honest explanations, appropriate apologies and timely support for their needs.”
According to NHS England, almost 690,000 patients were harmed in safety incidents in the past year. Those who need to claim financial redress to help restore their lives should always be able to do so and should always receive the full amount they need.
The evidence is clear, however, that honesty, transparency and an apology can go a long way in helping people come to terms with what has happened to them and may obviate the need for litigation as a solution in some cases.
A huge culture shift is required to change this. It is widely reported that criticism from colleagues, from clinicians’ regulators, the media and the prospect of prosecution all play their part in preventing clinicians from sitting down with families and being honest.
APIL has been calling for an extension to the very narrow remit of the current patient safety commissioner: if we can begin to address the patient safety crisis in a coherent way then, when things do go wrong, clinicians may just have the confidence to provide the apology which is all many injured patients want.