‘How should I respond when something goes wrong?’

In our regular feature we explore what your options are when things go wrong

Clare Aldridge is a CSP professional adviser
Clare Aldridge is a CSP professional adviser

Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) standards of conduct, performance and ethics 8.1 requires all physios to be open and honest when there is an adverse event, mistake or unexpected outcome in patient care. This is the professional duty of candour. We must promptly provide the effected patient with an explanation of what happened, the potential consequences, any rectifying steps taken and an apology.

Candour is a powerful tool in driving service evaluation and therefore improvements in patient safety and ethical practice. 

Apologising is a crucial part, it acknowledges the harm or distress experienced and should be sincere, empathic and meaningful.

Read NHS Resolution Saying Sorry to hone your confidence in saying sorry.

Apologising can feel daunting and raise questions; ‘If I apologise, will I be admitting liability?’ ‘Am I following organisational processes?’

Regardless of sector, public or private, apologising is not an admission of guilt or liability, this is established in UK legislation – UK Section 2 of the Compensation Act 2006 and the Apologies (Scotland) Act 2016

Candour has positive impacts for patients and practitioners. Providing a timely apology reduces formal patient complaints. The HCPC sanctions policy views apologising as demonstrating remorse and insight in fitness to practice investigations.

If you work for yourself, having a plan of how you’ll respond to adverse events will help you meet your duty of candour effectively; consider documenting a policy or procedure to demonstrate to patients that you are meeting your professional obligations.

Health and social care organisations now also have a duty of candour requiring them to foster transparency, open communication, honesty and accountability at all levels.

There are variations in how organisational duty of candour is implemented and regulated across the four UK nations.

Therefore, it is important to be aware of your organisation’s policies relating to candour and openness so that you can report adverse events appropriately and seek support when necessary. 

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