Doctor computer systemResponding to a joint statement by eight UK health regulators on the importance of being open and honest with patients, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) said its members understand that candour is central to the doctor/patient relationship.

The joint statement reiterates existing GMC guidance to doctors about candour which includes:

  • being open and honest with patients when something goes wrong
  • apologising to the patient or their family
  • explaining how things will put right, if that is possible
  • the actions being taken to help prevent the same thing happening in the future. 
For over 50 years the MDU has advised doctors to tell patients when things have gone wrong, to apologise and to try and put things right. In addition to the ethical requirement to be open and honest, and the more recent contractual duty of candour on NHS hospitals, the government is also introducing a further statutory duty of candour on organisations registered with the CQC in England. 

Dr Caroline Fryar, head of advisory services, at the MDU, said: "While we welcome the emphasis being placed on candour by the GMC and other regulators, our experience is that doctors overwhelmingly understand their long-standing ethical duty to be open and honest with patients. They appreciate that having an open dialogue with patients is not something to be afraid of. In the case of something going wrong, doctors tell us time and again that apologising early to a patient or their family can help prevent a complaint altogether or resolve one more quickly – so it's to everybody’s advantage to be open and honest from the outset. We look forward to responding to the GMC's joint consultation with the NMC on the new organisational duty of candour in November."

A recent survey of 677 MDU members' views on candour found:

  • 99% knew about their ethical duty to provide an explanation and apology to patients.
  • Of those involved in an incident more than 90% had apologised to the patient or their family.
  • 78% of respondents involved in incidents said there had been no repercussions when they told patients about an incident.**