Letter: Medical negligence: to apologise, to explain, to litigate

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The Independent Online
Medical negligence: to apologise, to explain, to litigate

From Dr Michael Saunders

Sir: I read with interest Polly Toynbee's article "Legal leeches are bleeding the NHS" (28 February). The Medical Defence Union is contributing to Lord Woolf's review of civil justice and supports any initiatives to make the litigation process fairer, faster and cheaper in the interests of our members and their patients.

I would, however, like to take issue with the common misunderstanding, repeated in the article, that "no prudent manager or medical insurer would dream of letting a doctor apologise". This is certainly not our view, and we speak as the UK's leading provider of indemnity to doctors.

Since the mid-Fifties, we have repeatedly advised our members to "say sorry" if something has gone wrong with a patient's treatment. A sincere and honest apology should be made, either by the doctor concerned or, if appropriate, by a senior colleague. Doctors should not worry about inadvertently making an admission of legal liability, as this is something completely different. The patient is always entitled to a prompt, appropriate and truthful account of what has occurred.

Yours faithfully,

Michael Saunders

Chief Executive

Medical Defence Union

London, W1