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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 enquiries@rjw.co.uk and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.

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