Sorry is the hardest word: Doctors given a dressing down

The GMC has proposed 'tougher sanctions' for those who make mistakes that harm patients, including forcing them to apologise
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The Independent Online

It's a good job that Facebook has introduced a new "satire" button to flag up spoof news stories, because when I read about the new regulations proposed by the General Medical Council, I thought they were a joke. The GMC has proposed "tougher sanctions" for doctors who make mistakes that harm patients, including forcing them to apologise. That means by threatening to have them struck off, not by sending them to their rooms to think very hard about what they have done. But it's the fact that a doctor would have to be forced to apologise that is shocking.

However, when my grandfather died in hospital, forcing an apology from the NHS was exactly what my family had to go through. The question of accountability was not at issue. My grandpa had been taken to hospital following a fall. Because he was on blood-thinning medication, tests were done to check for bleeding. But the doctor who discharged him hadn't looked at the results. He died two days later from a bleed in his brain, and his relatives were told immediately that mistakes had been made.

Following an inquest, an internal investigator found the areas at fault, and made some recommendations – and his own personal apology. But the family wanted an apology from those responsible, and assurances that the same mistake would never happen again.

A meeting was arranged, but the hospital's senior representative failed to turn up. It was only after lawyers were appointed, and the chief executive of the trust contacted, that anyone listened. The trust's chief nurse phoned the family. She was surprised by the request for an apology and said there was no protocol for that happening. There was clearly no culture of knowing how, or why, to apologise at all.

The family ended up with "compensation" – a small amount of money based on my grandpa's lack of earning potential or dependants, which did not compensate for what had happened, or for the loss of him, and which could have been saved by the NHS had it done the right thing at the start.

I sympathise with the spokeswoman for the GMC, who said that a culture of blame harms doctors' mental health. But bereaved families aren't interested in pointing fingers; they just need to hear from someone that it won't happen again. Surely, doctors genuinely are remorseful when mistakes are made. So why, for the NHS hierarchy, does "sorry" seem to be the hardest word?

All sexism is wrong

Sooooo sorry to mention it, I really hate to go on about this again, but, err, have you noticed there's another survey showing that women still earn less than men? I wouldn't bring it up, I know how annoying it is for men when we keep mithering on about it. Angry feminists – tut. It's just that the Chartered Management Institute checked the salaries of 68,000 UK managers and found that the women would have to work till they're 79 to earn what the men will by 65 – assuming they all start at 20, work full-time, don't take career breaks and are doing "comparable roles".

Anyway, enough of that nonsense. Three cheers to Louis de Bernières for taking on the family courts for being "institutionally sexist" in seeing men, "and fathers in particular, as completely expendable, apart from their wallets". I completely agree with him. Sexism is wrong. Let's ban it. All of it.

Congratulations, Mr President

Someone has finally called time on the ice bucket challenge, and I respect Barack Obama all the more for being the person to do it.

It was funny when actors and musicians were nominating each other to tip a bucket of iced water over their heads, and cool when the ice queen Anna Wintour did it. But then footballers used it to get at their rivals, and George Bush nominated Bill Clinton... It's a clever form of bullying, to make someone look like a humourless killjoy if he or she won't humiliate themselves on camera, so hurray for Obama being a grown-up (and also, busy) and just donating to charity instead.

The challenge is supposed to be an "awareness"-raising exercise, by the way. Can anyone remember the name of the disease it's supposed to be raising awareness of? (* See below for the answer.)

England gets the hump

The closer we get to next month's Scottish referendum, the more England behaves like the dumped one in a separating couple who doesn't want the other to leave. England loves Scotland and wants to make it work, but if Scotland does go, England wants it to suffer. Scotland threatens to walk out; England says it's keeping custody of the pound and Strictly Come Dancing.

But that's the problem in a split, England: only one party gets to decide whether you stay together or not. Now Scots are pitying the English, saying they still like us even if we hate them. England, have some self-respect and get on with your life. Then post pictures on Facebook of you getting all flirty with Spain.

Essence of Bieber

News that celebrity perfumes have taken a nosedive makes me wonder: do they smell of the people they're named after? Justin Bieber perfume, I'm guessing, smells like Red Bull and puke. Kate Moss's presumably stinks of fags. And One Direction? I can only imagine they smell like any teenage boy's bedroom – just save the money and use some old socks and a can of Lynx.

Girlfriend by Justin Bieber £23.50, available nationwide

* The ice challenge is for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or motor neurone disease

Ellen E Jones is away