Managing medical mishaps

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7052.243 (Published 03 August 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:243
  1. Peter Richards,
  2. I M Kennedy,
  3. Lord Woolf
  1. Medical director Northwick Park and St Mark's NHS Trust, Harrow HA1 3UJ
  2. Dean School of Law, King's College, London WC2R 2LS
  3. Master of the rolls House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW

    Needs greater openness and partnership between doctors, lawyers, judges, and patients

    No one likes admitting that things have gone wrong, least of all politicians and doctors. Even if not culpable, they feel vulnerable and tend to react defensively. Medical defence societies used to encourage this attitude, advising their members to behave like motorists involved in an accident and to admit no liability. Fortunately, their policy has changed. Accidents may or may not be avoidable or negligent. A chain of minor errors may cascade into a major mishap. Without a frank and sympathetic explanation accompanied by timely expression of regret or apology, a relationship of trust disintegrates into an adversarial contest between an embattled doctor and bruised families. The time, cost, and turmoil is often out of all proportion to any compensation due or to the extent to which the public interest may be served by the outcome of any legal proceedings. Legal disputes cannot, of course, always be avoided. The task is to find ways of resolving them fairly …

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