Digby Brown's reaction to Apologies Bill - Call for focus on Patients' Rights

Blurred out hospital ward

Digby Brown’s Head of Clinical Negligence has expressed concern that the proposed Apologies (Scotland) Bill, launched yesterday by Margaret Mitchell MSP, will not represent a significant advance in improving NHS accountability and transparency.

The proposed bill aims to encourage public bodies and others to apologise where appropriate by providing them with legal certainty that this could not be used as evidence in any future civil proceedings

Responding to the proposals, Sue Grant, Digby Brown Partner, cited her own experience and called on policy-makers to focus on implementing the Patients Rights Act, passed by the Scottish Parliament last year, rather than focus on making it easier for health boards to apologise when things go wrong.

She added that, in many cases, an apology alone is never going to be sufficient, citing just one recent tragic example - the case of Kane Gorny, 22, who died from dehydration whilst in hospital in England. The inquest into his death opened yesterday.

Sue Grant said “The consultation on the proposed Apologies Bill has laudable aims and raises a number of important issues.  However, the reality is that NHS Boards already provide apologies in many cases, and these are not taken to be admissions of civil liability.

“My experience is that, while there are individuals and health boards who are committed to being accountable and transparent about the care they provide, there still remains a culture of secrecy within parts of the NHS. This can only be addressed by empowering patients to be aware of their rights and what they are entitled to expect from the NHS.

“The Patients Right Act, passed by the Scottish Parliament last year, clearly sets out the standards of care and communication that patients should receive from the NHS. 

“I would call on policy-makers to focus on implementing this legislation across the NHS and improve patients’ experience rather than solely focus on making it easier for the health service to apologise when things go wrong.

“There is also a danger that we lose sight of the sad fact that there are cases where an apology will never be enough on its own to compensate an individual or family for injury or loss suffered as a result of clinical negligence.“ 

Full information can be found here on the proposed Apologies (Scotland) Bill.

Sue Grant is a Digby Brown Partner and Head of Clinical Negligence.

Sue is a graduate of Aberdeen University and joined Digby Brown in 1998. She is a member of the Executive Management Board of the firm with more than 20 years experience in personal injury and clinical negligence litigation and is a Law Society of Scotland and APIL accredited specialist in these fields.

Chambers Guide to the UK Legal Profession ranks Sue as band one “Leader in their Field” under Clinical Negligence.