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GPs in Scotland to gain legal protection when saying sorry

Doctors in Scotland will have new legal protection when saying sorry to patients after errors have been made, the Medical Defence Union says.

As of 19 June, The Apologies Scotland Act 2016 will make it clear that an apology (outside of legal proceedings) is not an admission of liability.

A spokesperson for the MDU said similar legislation had been in place in England and Wales since 2006.

They added that doctors were occasionally under the mistaken impression they should not apologise and the new legislation offered clarification.

Dr Jerard Ross, MDU medico-legal adviser, said: ‘Saying sorry to a patient when something has gone wrong is the right thing to do and is an ethical duty for doctors. ‘The Apologies (Scotland) Act provides further reassurance to doctors that apologising is not an admission of legal liability.’

He added: ‘In the MDU’s experience, a sincere and frank apology and explanation can help restore a patient’s confidence in their doctor following an error and help to rebuild trust.

‘This is important for a patient’s future healthcare and can help to avoid a complaint or litigation.’

GMC guidance states that doctors have a professional duty to be open and honest with patients if things go wrong.

A legal duty of candour has also been introduced in Scotland although is yet to come into force.

In April, Scotland introduced a new two-stage system in which GPs in Scotland have five days to respond to simple, straightforward complaints made by patients, and 20 days for more complex, high-risk cases.

Dr Peter Bennie, chair of BMA Scotland, said: ‘All doctors have a professional duty of candour to openly and honestly tell patients when things go wrong and to apologise when appropriate and we support efforts to ensure that doctors and other professionals are legally protected when fulfilling this duty.’