Doctors have a duty to get proper consent from a patient before a procedure. This means that they must give patients sufficient information before any procedure to enable the patient to understand the risks and make an informed decision on whether to go ahead. If that procedure goes wrong, however, there is no duty on the medical staff to inform the patient either that a medical error has been made or that the patient has been injured as a result.
Many patients who receive negligent medical treatment therefore remain ignorant that the exacerbation of their condition has come about not as a result of their original illness or bad luck but because their condition has been misdiagnosed or mistreated.
It is not just that leaving vulnerable patients in a state of ignorance is unethical, it goes to the heart of the relationship of trust that should exist between doctor and patient.
The lack of requirement to be straight with patients fosters a culture of cover up and hinders the drive to reduce medical errors.
Patient care can only be improved and lessons learned through the NHS genuinely embracing the culture of openness. That needs to start with a duty of candour.
I’m a medical negligence solicitor so you might think that a duty of candour would increase the number of number of claims brought. In fact research suggests that where a duty of candour is introduced and embraced the number of claims decreases and claims settle more quickly when they are brought. From speaking to many clients over the years that does not surprise me – some patients will bring a claim to find out what really happened or because they don’t feel that they have been told the full story as much as to seek compensation.