Daily Mail

Why can’t doctors just say sorry?


WE LOVE to bash politician­s, but it’s only fair to give them credit for doing something right. This week Jeremy Hunt attended a memorial for William Mead, the one-yearold from Penryn, Cornwall, who died from sepsis in December 2014 after a string of errors meant he wasn’t given the correct treatment in time.

Hunt attended so that he could say sorry. An apology won’t bring William back, but it’s the right thing to do.

So why doesn’t this happen more often? Saying sorry isn’t always easy. But in medicine, it’s surprising how much this simple word can heal.

A seventh of the NHS budget is spent on compensati­on claims, yet research shows the decision to sue is often not based on the harm caused, but how a mistake is handled.

All too often people will feel frustrated by their treatment, but don’t receive an acknowledg­ement or apology.

They write to hospital managers, but receive short shrift and are forced to negotiate Byzantine complaints procedures when all they wanted was a ‘sorry.’

I once worked with a surgeon who dismissed the concerns of a patient who, post-op, complained of pain and a ‘dragging’ sensation in her abdomen. He assured her that the surgery had been a success. But she ended up in A&E and when the on-call surgeon opened her up he found a swab inside her.

Panicked hospital managers tried to talk to her, yet she refused, insisting on speaking to the surgeon responsibl­e.

The next day he went to see her, even though managers warned against doing so without legal representa­tion. He was quite arrogant, so this display of humility surprised everyone. ‘I was wrong, she deserves to hear that from me,’ he said. He apologised to her and said he understood if she wanted to make a formal complaint — very damaging for his career, but he was racked with guilt.

The patient looked aghast. ‘Why would I?’ she asked. ‘We all make mistakes. You said sorry. That was all I wanted,’ she told him with a smile.

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