Saturday 23 September 2017

How health service can say sorry and really mean it

Culture change: Peter Tyndall, Ombudsman. Photo: Mark Condren
Culture change: Peter Tyndall, Ombudsman. Photo: Mark Condren
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Sorry is too often the hardest word, particularly in the health service.

It leaves patients and families distressed and looking for answers and leads to unnecessary court cases. Now the Ombudsman Peter Tyndall has issued a guide to public services on how to make a "meaningful apology".

The guide advises:

  • Accept you have done something wrong. This means identify what went wrong. You must describe the offending action or behaviour, whether it was accidental or intentional.
  • Your description must be specific to show you understand the offence you have caused. It must acknowledge the effects of the offence.
  • Accept you are responsible and the harm done.
  • Show you are sincere in your apology. This shows you understand the effect your action has had on the person. You should say sorry to the person and back it up in writing.
  • Assure them you will not repeat the offence. Make amends and put things right where you can.

It will require major culture change in hospitals in particular, which have been accused of using a "deny and defend" approach when things go wrong and where "open disclosure" is still not mandatory.

Mr Tyndall said: "An apology is not a sign of weakness. It shows a provider is willing to learn. It is good practice."

Irish Independent

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