Exclusive The GMC has acknowledged that it was wrong to suggest to an MPTS tribunal that a doctor’s apology to a patient was an admission of guilt.
The regulator told Pulse today that its ethical guidance ‘is clear that a doctor apologising to a patient does not mean that they are admitting legal liability’ and it will make its legal representatives aware of this ‘for future cases’.
Dr Nithya Santhanalakshmi Shunmugavel Pandian was suspended for two months after a tribunal found that her actions were ‘dishonest’ and amounted to ‘serious misconduct’ when she was found to have recorded information about a patient without having completed the necessary examinations.
The patient claimed that Dr Pandian did not listen to her heart or breathing, and did not examine her abdomen, despite recording results of these examinations in her notes.
In 2019, Dr Pandian apologised to the patient ‘for all the distress’ she went through because of the incident, and in its allegation of dishonesty the GMC suggested this was an admission of guilt, as ‘the apology would only make sense if Dr Pandian had not examined’ the patient.
This was seemingly contrary to the GMC’s own ethical guidance which states that ‘apologising to a patient does not mean that you are admitting legal liability for what has happened’ when a patient has suffered ‘harm or distress’.
Although it still reached a conclusion of dishonesty, MPTS dismissed this suggestion from the regulator, saying ‘the apology was not an admission’,
In response to the ruling some doctors expressed concerns around the risk of apologising to patients. But GMC has clarified today that their ethical guidance stands, and suggested it will ensure similar situations do not arise in future.
A spokesperson for the regulator told Pulse: ‘It is very important that doctors feel confident offering an apology to their patients, where appropriate.
‘Our guidance on being open and honest with patients is clear that a doctor apologising to a patient does not mean that they are admitting legal liability.
‘We will draw attention to our guidance to Counsel who act on our behalf so that they are aware for future cases.’
In 2019 Dr Pandian said she believes she performed the examinations, adding: ‘If Patient A feels that I documented this without examination then I sincerely apologise for all the distress that Patient A went through because of this.’