Question Marc

Is it okay to say sorry to a patient or relative after an incident has occurred? My manager says we should not do this.

Your manager is probably concerned that if you apologise you will be accepting liability. This is a common view, however it is based on a misunderstanding of the law of negligence.

Negligence is the area of law that deals with incidents that go wrong. If your actions are at the accepted standard for the profession then it is unlikely that you would be at risk; to be found negligent you must have performed your professional duty below the required standard.

Assuming your actions have been at the acceptable standard, saying sorry once an incident has occurred does not make your actions fall below this standard and therefore does not affect your liability.

This has been confirmed in the Compensation Act 2006, which states: ‘An apology, an offer of treatment or other redress, shall not of itself amount to an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty.’

The Nursing and Midwifery Code ( states that you must ‘take measures to reduce as far as possible the likelihood of mistakes, near misses, harm and the effect of harm if it takes place’.

To minimise harm associated with any incident, you need to inform the patient of the incident and any action you need to take to rectify or reduce the effect of it. It is at this point that you could offer your apology. It does not give you additional liability.

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