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Paul Sankey: Legally Enforceable Duty of Candour to Assist Victims of Medical Accidents

News that the government has agreed to introduce a legally enforceable Duty of Candour in healthcare – a duty to be open and honest with patients and their families when things go wrong – is welcome. This is an issue close to my heart. Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA), with whom we work, have been campaigning for such a duty for many years and I have argued the case in articles, radio and TV interviews.At present although doctors have a professional obligation to tell patients the truth, they have no legally enforceable duty. Further healthcare managers have no such duty. As a result patients are often left in the dark about what has happened and not told when things have gone wrong. Worse, I have seen written responses to complaints which mislead and cover up the truth.One example was Colin Freeman, a 39 year old man who had a severely disabling stroke as a result of a failure by doctors at Frimley Park Hospital to carry out a planned investigation. The investigation would have revealed an infection on his heart, a condition which was easily treatable. Even though this was a clear error – and one Colin did not know about (he did not know the investigation had been planned) – the Hospital responded to a complaint with a long and misleading letter. The letter created a smokescreen by focussing on irrelevant issues and then said that within hindsight nothing would have been done differently.Had Colin’s family believed the response and not persisted in investigating a legal claim, he would not have recovered substantial damages, enabling him to buy suitable accommodation and set up a 24 hour care regime for life.We wait to see exactly what form the Duty will take but news of the government’s plans not only marks a welcome breakthrough in patient’s rights but, by creating a climate of openness, should promote patient safety.Paul Sankey is a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. If you or a member of your family have a clinical negligence enquiry please call our expert clinical negligence solicitors on 0800 916 9049, fill in our short online claim form or email and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.


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