Saying Sorry Matters

The most common reason patients pursue a complaint in the NHS when something has gone wrong is that they weren’t given a meaningful apology. Although media reports often imply we live in a compensation culture, in reality most patients who have suffered injury due to avoidable medical negligence are reluctant to pursue a claim. However, frequently poor communication as to what has gone wrong, a lack of explanation or a failure to apologise, results in patients making complaints which can then progress to compensation claims if the error has caused significant injury.


The latest report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman states that not getting a good enough apology, when things go wrong, is the most common complaint from NHS patients in England and accounts for over a third of cases which were investigated in 2014/15. The Ombudsman Julie Mellor said “I strongly believe that NHS leaders should welcome feedback from patients and recognise the opportunities that good complaint handling offers to improve the services they provide. We are publishing this data to help Hospital Trusts identify problems and take action to ensure trust in the Health Care System remains high”.

Other reasons for complaints being pursued included errors in diagnosing conditions, poor treatment and lack of communication.


These reasons are all regularly given to us by people who contact our medical negligence department to see if we can assist as they have experienced frustration in trying to obtain satisfactory responses into what went wrong with their care from within the NHS Complaints System. Earlier this year the Health Service Ombudsman reported that over 40% of NHS investigations into patient complaints were not good enough. These were all cases where it was alleged patients had suffered injury or even died, in circumstances which potentially should have been avoided with adequate care.

In many cases where we have acted for patients, the hospital has initially denied that they did anything wrong and failed to provide satisfactory answers to the patient, but subsequently the hospital has gone on to admit that they acted negligently and in some cases have sent formal letters of apology to the patient - but only after solicitors had become involved and court proceedings had been started.

Given that all NHS Hospitals and Trusts are under a Duty of Candour to inform and apologise to patients if there have been mistakes in their care that have led to significant harm, this latest report from the Ombudsman is very concerning and reinforces our experience as a Medical Negligence Team that there is still a long way to go before the NHS respond appropriately when things have gone wrong.