Rah rah rah for the General Medical Council’s ‘Pandering to the Daily Mail’ department for deciding that GMC panels will be given the power to force doctors to apologise to patients they have harmed.
This looks like the thin edge of a very sharp and spiky wedge to me. What happens if, in all fairness, no apology is actually warranted? Will the GMC still feel the urge to administer a slapped wrist and compel Doc to express profound regret? If so, that apology will almost certainly be offered with all the sincerity of a recalcitrant teenager. For ‘Sorry’, read: ‘Am I sorry? Yeah, I’m sorry that you’re such an abject deadout. Hashtag #moron. Whatever.’
Believe it or not, I do try to avoid damaging patients, but there are plenty of opportunities to do so in the course of a working day. An antibiotic that doesn’t clear a urinary infection, a joint injection that doesn’t free up a frozen shoulder, a working diagnosis that turned out to be incorrect: all of these could be said, albeit indirectly, to have ‘damaged a patient’. And I’d be sorry to hear that a patient had a trimethoprim resistant UTI, or that they still can’t reach up to do their hair.
But if the right thing to at the time do turned out to be the wrong thing to do with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I don’t see what I’d have to apologise for.
A patient decides to breed a master race of antibiotic multi-resistant coliforms in her bladder. No fault of mine, as I’m not the one popping an assortment of leftover antibiotics from her previous half dozen attacks at the first sign of a tingle when she tinkles.
I feel sorry for her but I don’t feel the urge to prostrate myself and beg forgiveness for following a set of well established and clinically appropriate guidelines.
You don’t have to work for a medical defence organisation to know that if you cock something up and put a patient at risk the first thing to do is to call them, or call them in, explain what happened, and do whatever is needed to minimise any resulting harm.
But, forcing perfectly caring and capable doctors to offer apologies for doing absolutely nothing wrong? Oi! GMC! No!
Because when I’m summonsed to supply my first legally-sanctioned yet entirely unjustified apology, I’ll be the one wearing the T-shirt that reads: ‘I went to medical school to learn how to save your sorry arse, not kiss it.’
Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield.