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Submitting a written statement: what you need to know

The RCN’s quick reference guide will help you to avoid the common pitfalls

The RCNs quick reference guide will help you to avoid the common pitfalls

There are many occasions during a nurses career when they may be requested to provide a written statement.

This could be for an inquest, as a witness to an incident involving a patient or colleague, for staff under investigation for an adverse incident, to raise concerns and, rarely, a police statement in criminal proceedings.

Guidance on written statements now available

Roz Hooper. Picture: John Houlihan

Being asked to produce a written account can be a daunting prospect for a nurse who is uncertain of how to go about it.

Getting a statement right

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The RCN’s quick reference guide will help you to avoid the common pitfalls

Statements should be clear and chronological, using precise language. Picture: iStock

There are many occasions during a nurse’s career when they may be requested to provide a written statement.

This could be for an inquest, as a witness to an incident involving a patient or colleague, for staff under investigation for an adverse incident, to raise concerns and, rarely, a police statement in criminal proceedings.

Guidance on written statements now available

Roz Hooper. Picture: John Houlihan

Being asked to produce a written account can be a daunting prospect for a nurse who is uncertain of how to go about it.

Getting a statement right is important because the nurse could be asked to provide evidence based on what they have written.

To aid the process, the RCN has published a six-point plan on how to tackle a request for a written statement, including some of the pitfalls nurses should be wary of when committing their recollections to paper.

RCN head of legal services Roz Hooper says that while guidance on statement writing has existed for some time, getting a statement right is so critical that the college wanted to offer a quick reference guide.

‘A well-written statement is important,’ she says. ‘It allows our members to provide a factual account of what happened, as it happened. Nurses are the front line of patient care and they are in the best position to provide an account of the care they provided.’

Tips for putting together a good statement

  1. Do not rush it – you should always be given reasonable time to write a statement
  2. If your conduct or practice is being called into question and you are a member of a union, considering contacting them for advice
  3. Do your best to answer the question or allegation. Explain as simply as possible what happened, when, who was there and what you did, heard and saw. If you do not remember something, say so
  4. Format your statement – add page and paragraph numbers, double space your lines and ensure there are clear margins
  5. Check it – Have you answered what was asked, clearly and objectively? Can you provide evidence for the facts stated?
  6. Always keep a copy for your own records

Adapted from: Issues at work and writing a statement (RCN)

Things to consider before you start the statement

The RCN is clear that nurses should not be rushed and should be given a reasonable period of time to consider and prepare their statement.

The college suggests that if an employer or agency asks for a statement, you should ask them to put their request in writing so that you know exactly what you are being asked.

You should also follow any professional codes, such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council code of conduct, and check the employer’s local policies and confidentiality guidelines.

If your conduct or practice is being called into question, you should seek advice from a union, if you are a member.

Otherwise, nurses should do their best to answer the question or allegation in a clear and simple way.

What you should include in your written submission

The RCN has produced a template form that you can use to guide you as you write.

The form includes elements such as stating when you began working for your current employer, when you qualified and how long you have worked for.

It has a section for nurses to say whether the statement is based on personal recollection, a review of records, or a combination of the two.

The form also includes guidance on stating when you started caring for the patient in question, and the last involvement in their care.

When filling in a statement you should set out when things happened, who was there, and what you did, saw and heard.

You should state the times you came on and off duty on the day in question and give brief details of the work environment at the time, including your role, area of responsibility and the number of patients you were caring for.

Good practice in your role

When writing a report, you have a right to see the clinical records. If this does not happen, note this in your statement and do not attempt to guess what the documents might say.

Any documents referenced should be listed and, if possible, state where to find them. This could include patient records, Datix records, untoward event reports, and local and national guidelines.

‘Sometimes members leave out names and job titles of those present or give their emotional response to the scenario, rather than remaining objective’

Roz Hooper, RCN head of legal services

The RCN is clear that if a nurse is unable to remember something, they should say so.

When it comes to writing a statement about raising concerns, the college encourages nurses to do this as soon as they see the problem, and not wait.

All NHS employees have a contractual right and a duty to raise concerns with their employer that they consider to be in the public interest, including malpractice, patient safety, financial impropriety or any other serious risks.

Check the document and avoid common mistakes

Sometimes statements may be prepared by someone else and a nurse is asked to sign them. If this is the case for you and you disagree with any of the content, do not sign. Instead, the RCN advises you to return the statement to the employer, clearly indicating the areas for amendment.

Before submitting any statement, read it carefully, and check its layout to make sure it is easy to understand.

Once it has been submitted, ensure you have a copy of the final version for future reference.

Ms Hooper says RCN members should contact the college if they need support. She encourages nurses to be alert to mistakes that can often be made when writing a statement.

‘Some common mistakes include focusing on what they feel is the main issue rather than following a timeline, or not responding directly to the allegation being made,’ she says.

‘Sometimes members leave out names and job titles of those present or give their emotional response to the scenario, rather than remaining objective. We would urge them to have the statement checked before they hand it in.’

Be accurate and avoid jargon

  • Write the statement in chronological order, giving precise dates and times
  • Use the first person ‘I’ when writing
  • Avoid jargon or official language. Explain clinical or healthcare procedures, and avoid general statements such as ‘routine observations were made’
  • If normal procedures were not followed, explain what is normal and why there was a departure from the accepted procedure
  • State what is personal recollection and what can be corroborated as fact with reference to, for example, healthcare records, reports, clinical guidelines or standards
  • Do not speculate, elaborate or exaggerate, or use emotional language
  • It is acceptable to form a view based on professional judgement. Document the facts or evidence on which this conclusion is based and relate how this affects patient care or service levels
  • Avoid giving opinions or making judgements that you cannot support by factual evidence or corroboration. A good phrase to use is: ‘Based on the information available to me at the moment…’
  • Keep patients’ and relatives’ identities anonymous, for example, use ‘Patient X’ throughout the statement

Source: Statements: how to write them (RCN)


Further information


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