When doctors are given a dressing

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 Britain's 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?  - The Independent


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