Law to enable doctors be more open with patients and families

Open disclosure will allow medics admit errors and apologise without fear of litigation

“Open disclosure is important for building patient and public trust in the health system,” says the Department of Health. File photograph: Reuters

“Open disclosure is important for building patient and public trust in the health system,” says the Department of Health. File photograph: Reuters

 

Measures have been introduced that will allow doctors open disclosure on medical mishaps without the threat of automatic liability.

Open disclosure has long been called for and is a protocol whereby medical practitioners can admit mistakes, apologise and explain details.

Its historic absence has been due to a climate of fear in which any admission of wrongdoing on the part of medical staff could lead to expensive legal actions.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has signed into force a law that will allow doctors practice open disclosure with patients where they wish to do so. Separate legislation making such behaviour mandatory is in train.

The Civil Liability (Open Disclosure) (Prescribed Statements) Regulations 2018 now gives effect to legally supported paperwork allowing disclosures without liability.

This type of disclosure is an “open and consistent approach to communicating with patients and their families when things go wrong in healthcare”, according to the Department of Health

It allows for patients to be informed of adverse events as soon as possible, an expression of regret, keeping the patient informed on what has happened and updating them on investigations.

“Open disclosure is important for building patient and public trust in the health system,” says the department.

The statutory instrument on such disclosures gives legal protection once they are made in line with the legislation. An apology cannot be used in litigation. It comes into force this September.

Earlier this month the Government approved the general scheme of the Patient Safety Bill which will introduce mandatory open disclosure for serious incidents and which has now been referred to the Oireachtas health committee for consideration.

The legislation follows the recent cervical cancer scandal. This exposed the fact that more than 200 women diagnosed with the condition should have received notification that earlier tests they were given required followed up.