Surgeons still try to cover up errors

DOCTORS ARE still reluctant to tell patients when they make an error, despite warnings that they could be struck off if they try to bury their mistakes.

Four out of ten specialists surveyed for a study, published in the British Medical Journal, said they did not believe patients should always be told when a complication occurred and two-thirds did not agree that the patients should be given detailed information about the possible consequences. In contrast, more than nine out of ten patients said they should be told about a mistake and more than eight out of ten said they would want to know what might happen as a result.

The findings come after a series of cases that have highlighted the institutional secrecy of medicine and the tendency of doctors to close ranks and cover for errant colleagues. Hearings begin later this month in the Bristol baby deaths inquiry, which will examine how warnings about the high death rate at Bristol Royal Infirmary during the late 1980s and early 1990s went unheeded for years.

The General Medical Council, the doctors' disciplinary body, revised its guidance on good medical practice in 1997. It now says that after an adverse event a full and honest explanation and an apology should be provided routinely.

In the study, Dr Leslie Hingorani and colleagues at the Central Middlesex Hospital, London, asked a group of patients attending an ophthalmology clinic to imagine an incident in which a surgeon carrying out a cataract operation makes a small error, as a result of which the lens capsule breaks.

The surgeon has to insert stitches and a larger lens than he planned and there is a one in ten chance that the patient's vision will be affected. However, next day the patient, a woman, sees well and is pleased. Should she be told?

Of 248 patients questioned, 92 per cent said they would want to be told and 81 per cent said they would want details of what could happen. Among 48 consultant ophthalmologists 60 per cent said the patient should be told and 33 per cent believed she should be given details.

The authors say that doctors may be reluctant to tell out of a desire to protect patients from anxiety. But they may also fear losing the patient's trust, being blamed and perhaps sued. Yet many studies show that failing to provide information increases the risk of litigation and the longer an explanation is left the more difficult it is to provide. They add: "The practice of medicine can never be free of errors and changes are required in the attitudes of both patients and the medical profession."

The General Medical Council said doctors who fail to acknowledge mistakes could face misconduct charges.

t The British Medical Association warned that 350 obstetricians were facing redundancy because there are too few consultant posts for the number being trained. It called on the Government to establish new consultant posts "to provide recommended standards of care in labour".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Manager

£40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity working ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Journals Manager

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The prime focus of the role is to assist...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Administrator - Chinese Speaking

£17000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly growing company is...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks