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Ask the expert - Duty of candour

Post date: 29/09/2015 | Time to read article: 2 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 18/05/2020

The NHS statutory duty of candour was extended to all GP practices in April. Since then Medical Protection has received many inquiries from GP members on what this means for them. Rachel Birch, Medicolegal Adviser, responds to these concerns.

GPs and practice staff are now legally obligated to be open and honest with patients and apologise for mistakes.

The new statutory duty applies to organisations, not individuals; however the GMC and NMC have also now released joint guidance on what is expected of individual healthcare practitioners.

Action points for GPs:

The new guidance from the GMC says that 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. This means that healthcare professionals must:

  • Speak to a patient, or those close to them, as soon as possible after they realise something has gone wrong with their care
  • Apologise to the patient, explaining what happened, what can be done if they have suffered harm and what will be done to prevent someone else being harmed in the future
  • Report errors at an early stage so that lessons can be learned quickly, and patients are protected from harm in the future.

Another requirement of the medical councils is that anything that goes wrong must be reported to the practice or organisation and national reporting systems, such as the National Reporting and Learning System (NRLS), to help ensure that lessons are learned and mistakes not repeated.

More to consider…

The CQC has guidance on the statutory duty of candour and can prosecute a practice if they fail to notify a patient of a notifiable safety incident and the organisation is liable to a potential fine of up to £2,500. For more information Medical Protection has a factsheet on the statutory duty.

Medical Protection’s policy work

Medical Protection encourages a culture of openness in the NHS and supports healthcare professionals to be open and honest. However, there are long standing concerns that a statutory duty of candour fails to provide the impetus necessary for behavioural change. There is a risk that a legal duty of candour will encourage a bureaucratic, top-down, compliance-driven, blame culture which undermines a culture of transparency and learning.

Medical Protection plays an active role in shaping government reform and regulation by responding to consultations that affect our members and the wider industry. Read more about Medical Protection's policy work.

Find out more

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Please note: Medical Protection does not maintain this article and therefore the advice given may be incorrect or out of date, and may not constitute a definitive or complete statement of the legal, regulatory and/or clinical environment. MPS accepts no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the advice given, in particular where the legal, regulatory and/or clinical environment has changed. Articles are not intended to constitute advice in any specific situation, and if you are a member you should contact Medical Protection for tailored advice. All implied warranties and conditions are excluded, to the maximum extent permitted by law.

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