Thomas Cook has finally said sorry for the tragic deaths of two children from carbon monoxide poisoning. But it was too little and too late to provide any of the human comforts of a genuine, timely and open apology. The reputational damage is done.
In the NHS, reluctance to be open and honest, with a genuine apology when things have gone wrong, comes at a high price for patients, their loved ones, frontline staff and the organisation. In my experience, many doctors fear the patient’s response and regulatory or disciplinary consequences of admitting to an error. Organisations may focus on the reputational and litigation costs. In situations involving complex, sensitive issues including avoidable harm or death, staff are upset and it can be difficult for an organisation to make an objective and independent assessment of what has happened and why from within. Getting this right is crucial for determining the right way forward and this includes getting the right source of advice. And it really is OK to say sorry; an apology does not mean an admission of legal liability. It is the right thing to do when things have gone wrong and can help to heal the hurt.
The NHS Litigation Authority advice on Saying Sorry can be found here.