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Patients less likely to sue if they receive an apology

More than 90% of medical professionals believe patients are less likely to sue after being the victim of a mistake if they receive an apology and explanation for the error, according to a new survey by MPS.

Nearly 90% of the 700 professionals questioned said patients are more likely to complain now than five years ago, but more than 55% said what motivated people most in doing this was simply the desire for an apology and explanation.

This finding easily outstripped the percentages who felt complainants' prime motivations were the desire for compensation, to see those involved punished, or to prevent the incident recurring.

Yet only just over two thirds of the professionals questioned by the Medical Protection Society (MPS) said doctors are willing to be open with patients when something goes wrong.

Dr Stephanie Bown, MPS director of communications and policy, said: "We have long encouraged medical professionals to be open with patients about their mistakes. That is why we support initiatives aimed at promoting this transparency, such as the National Patient Safety Agency's Being Open policy, and the NHS Litigation Agency's circular on apologies and explanations.

"We will continue to encourage the medical profession to be more forthcoming when errors have been made. In many ways the most important justification for advocating openness is the fundamental one that everybody makes mistakes and admitting them is morally the right thing to do."

Medical Protection Society

Do you agree that patients who complain are not looking for compensation? Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)

"Yes I do, but it is becoming common practice in the NHS not to apologise. Personally, this has happened to me - I sued a local hospital for a gross error as it was the only way forward and an apology never came. If an apology had been issued I would not have sued." - Chris Forest-Potter, Leicester

"In my professional career (36 years), I have found that the vast majority of patients trust and respect the medical and nursing professionals. This respect has been undermined by indiscriminate coverage in the media when errors occur. Never before have health professionals been so closely scrutinised; but an apology, an explanation of suboptimal care and reassurance that steps have been taken to prevent reoccurance are usually what is required and appreciated. If only the financiers took the same responsibility there would be no credit crunch!" - Louise Webb, Berkshire