The UK´s Secretary for Health – Jeremy Hunt – has stated that he wants to slash medical negligence compensation payments by “Saying Sorry” – a measure that has proved effective in the United States.
Mr Hunt´s comments were made in an interview with the press to announce new guidelines that have been sent to every hospital in England and Wales. The guidelines recommend that medical professionals “say sorry” in circumstances where there had been a failure in the duty of care, or when an accident has happened due to which a patient has suffered an injury or the avoidable deterioration of an existing condition. .
The Health Secretary suggested that medical professionals in the health service are reluctant to apologise because of the fear of litigation and this view was echoed by the chief executive of the NHS Litigation Authority – Catherine Dixon – who said:
“Saying sorry is the human and moral thing to do. We won´t say that we are not going to cover you because you´ve said sorry. We are not like a car insurer who will withhold a claim because an apology has been given. Saying sorry is not an admission of legal liability”.
The Secretary for Health used the University of Michigan as an example of how the approach works. Having adopted the practice of “apologising and learning when you are wrong, explaining and vigorously defending when we are right, and viewing court as a last resort”, the University is now one of the safest medical centres in the United States and has halved the medical negligence compensation payments it is liable for from a decade ago.
Mr Hunt tweeted that the University of Michigan´s practice was an “interesting example of how being open and saying sorry could slash the litigation bill. [We] want to see similar results in the NHS”.
Mr Hunt´s concern over medical negligence compensation payments comes after figures revealed the number of claims against the NHS is expected to increase by 25 percent to 12,000; and that around 20 percent of the NHS´s annual budget (approximately £22 billion) would have to be put aside to meet the state´s liability for medical negligence in UK hospitals.