Duty of Candour in medical care – what does it mean?

Posted on 16th September 2020

From 2005-2009, between 400 and 1,200 patients died as a result of poor care at Stafford Hospital (now renamed County Hospital), a general hospital in Staffordshire. Over the five-year period, numerous allegations of medical negligence were made against the Trust managing the hospital – the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

A Public Inquiry

As a result of alleged repeated errors and a failure to be open about those errors, a Public Inquiry was ordered by the Department of Health. The Inquiry chaired by Robert Francis QC began its work in 2010 and published its report in early 2013. The Francis Report, as it was known, ordered that a law be brought into force to require doctors, nurses and managers to tell the truth to patients and their families if a medical error occurred.

In early 2015, as a result of the Francis Report, new regulations were brought into force under the law “Duty of Candour”.

What is Duty of Candour

Under duty of candour, a medical professional must inform the patient, their relatives or carers when a mistake has been made. A full explanation and apology must also be offered.

The intention behind these new regulations was to impose a duty on healthcare providers to be open and honest at all times.

In March 2015 the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) updated its guidance also. Their rules on the duty of candour also include guidance on being open and honest with patients and their families. Any nurse found to have not followed the code could face possible prosecution by the NMC.

Likewise, in June 2015, the GMC (General Medical Council) followed suit by updating their guidance for doctors and general practitioners. Their regulations state that:

“all healthcare professionals have a duty of candour – a professional responsibility to be honest with patients when things go wrong…you must be open and honest with patients, colleagues and your employers.”
Duty of Candour GMC Guidance

As with midwives and nurses, any doctors found to have not followed the code can be prosecuted by their respective governing body.

Doctors and nurses, all well as all levels of hospital mangers are now under a duty to tell the truth and not to mislead a patient if an error has occurred.

Can a breach lead to criminal prosecutions?

A breach of the duty of candour could be deemed to be a criminal offence. In the case of senior doctors or medical directors who –

  • knowingly obstruct another from performance of the statutory candour duties

or

  • provide information to a patient / family with intention to mislead them, or dishonestly make an untruthful statement to a commissioner or regulator a criminal prosecution by the CQC (Care Quality Commission) could be brought.

The CQC is expected to prosecute healthcare providers or individuals only as a last resort and where cases are in serial or serious breach, or wilfully deceptive.

Getting in touch

The vast majority of patients are given appropriate information regarding their treatment but if you have been affected by a lack of honesty and openness with your treatment then please contact us.

Our Specialist Solicitors are backed by nearly four decades of experience. Our legal practice and team of Medical Negligence Solicitors have a strong track record of achieving the best possible results. For expert legal advice use our contact form or call us on 0808 231 6369 today.

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