If a healthcare professional makes a mistake, does saying sorry make any difference?

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Recently a relative of mine (who was receiving care in a health care setting) was spoken to by a health care professional in a manner which was found to not be so professional, almost aggressive and potentially controlling.

The effects from this interaction were profound and clearly had a detrimental effect upon my loved one and also their trust in the people caring for them. Upon hearing this my only response, whilst trying to stay dignified and calm, was to say that an apology must be given.
Why just an apology I hear you say… The event had occurred and the damage at the time had been done. I felt that the professional needed to reflect on their manner and the impact that it had caused on someone in their care and for a change in their approach to occur.

I feel strongly that as professionals we can learn and grow from our mistakes and can try to rebuild trust and relationships with those we care for and support when things go wrong. The first step in my opinion based on the severity of the incident would be to give the staff member that opportunity to try and make amends.

Regulation 20 Duty of Candour, The Legal Duty to be open and honest when things go wrong. A regulation that we as professionals and those who provide care should carry through in all we do, in my humble opinion. Is it just a legal Duty or is it also a moral one? Is the ability to reflect and recognise when we’ve got something wrong an important part of culture and values, something that reflects who we are as individuals and the ethos of the business or environments we operate in. Something that as professionals we should embrace, a quality of a true leader and leadership, the ability to be humble.

In my relatives’ case, the answer was yes. A written apology came along with evidence of reflection and thank fully trust was restored.

It’s not always that simple I hear you say, and yes, I agree. Sometimes there are too many mistakes and those were the severity of the incident is such that sorry just doesn’t cut it.

As professionals we need to be seen to learn from our lessons, undertake change and embrace it whilst ensuring that the positive change is embedded and sustained in practice.

There are also times when we need to acknowledge that we understand that Sorry, sometimes, just doesn’t work and that damage cannot be repaired.