DOCTORS have been told they should not hold back from apologising to patients for fear of legal action, ahead of a new law encouraging public apologies.

The Apologies (Scotland) Act 2016, which comes into force on June 19th, aims to change the culture of public services and other agencies, to encourage a greater willingness to apologise when things have gone wrong.

However the Medical Defence Union said some doctors were still under the mistaken impression that they should avoid apologising. Dr Jerard Ross, medico-legal adviser for the MDU, said: “Saying sorry to a patient when something has gone wrong is the right thing to do and is an ethical duty for doctors. The Apologies (Scotland) Act provides further reassurance to doctors that apologising is not an admission of legal liability.

"In the MDU’s experience, a sincere and frank apology and explanation can help restore a patient’s confidence in their doctor following an error and help to rebuild trust.”

The Apologies (Scotland) Act 2016, the relevant part of which comes into force on 19 June 2017, makes it clear that an apology (outside of legal proceedings) is not an admission of liability.

Doctors also have a professional duty of candour, set out in the General Medical Council’s Good medical practice. This legal duty of candour was also introduced in Scotland under The Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) (Scotland) Act 2016 although it has yet to be brought into force by enabling legislation.