Health professionals must be open and honest with patients when something goes wrong with their treatment, regulators have said.
Organisations such as the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council have set out their commitment to a “duty of candour” by publishing a joint statement.
The move follows two major inquiries into the Mid Staffordshire scandal by Sir Robert Francis QC, who said the probes had revealed the “appalling” consequences for patients of a “closed ranks” culture within the NHS.
The statement by eight of the UK professional healthcare regulators calls on medical staff to apologise to patients if mistakes are made, offer an appropriate remedy and explain what the effects are.
They must also be honest with their colleagues and employers, and take part in investigations when requested.
The statement reads: “Health professionals must be open and honest when things go wrong. This is also known as the duty of candour.
“As the chief executives and registrars of statutory regulators of healthcare professionals, we believe that this is an essential duty for all professionals working with patients.”
It was signed by regulators from the chiropractic, dental, optical, osteopathic and pharmaceutical sectors, as well as the GMC and NMC.
They all pledged to promote the statement to their registrants, students and patients across public, private and voluntary healthcare.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: “We recognise that guidance is only worthwhile when it can be used in everyday practice. That is why we will be working with doctors not only on the content, but on how it can be implemented effectively on the clinical frontline.
“We know that many front line staff can feel under enormous pressures and that the culture of the institutions in which they work is vital in creating the conditions for openness and honesty - not a blame culture but a learning culture.
And that means everyone in the healthcare team feeling able to raise concerns.
“The feedback we have received suggests there is some way to go in this - some doctors are not confident they would be supported if they raised a concern, while others need to know where to take their concerns.
“The awful reality that emerged from Mid Staffs and indeed other inquiries was that doctors knew about our guidance but were not empowered by it.
They felt it was acceptable to walk by the other side of the ward knowing that there was unsafe and unacceptable practice going on.
“We must all do what we can to make sure that does not happen again.”