While most nurses say they know what is meant by the term “duty of candour”, at least one in five may not undestand it, suggest results from a major survey by Nursing Times.
The Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry report recommended in February that there should be a series of new laws requiring all NHS staff and directors to be open and honest when mistakes happen – a so-called statutory duty of candour.
As part of our annual survey, we asked readers whether they understood the meaning of the term “duty of candour” in reference to openness about errors and concerns.
Of the 2,200 respondents, 67% said “yes”, but 20% answered “no” and 13% were “unsure”.
The introduction of such a duty is one of the targets of the Speak Out Safely campaign, which was launched in March by Nursing Times with the aim of helping strengthen protection for frontline staff and increase honesty and transparency in the NHS.
In its initial response to the Francis report, the government said it planned to introduce a legal duty of candour for trust boards, but has so far rejected the idea that it should apply to all staff. It is due to reveal its full response to Francis later this year.
However, Nursing Times and Robert Francis QC believe that the duty to cover all NHS staff as well as senior managers – in order to provide greater protection for patients and frontline clinicians themselves.
For example, it would protect those who speak up by creating a specific criminal offence for anyone who tried to prevent a member of staff from highlighting a serious incident.
It has been suggested that some nurses and NHS staff mistakenly believe that a duty of candour simply compels them to raise concerns and would see them face legal action if they did not raise concerns.
However, this compulsion to raise concerns is already part of the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s code of conduct and is not the objective of the revised duty of candour. Rather it seeks to prevent managers from blocking those who have concerns.
Our annual survey was carried out from 21 August to 27 September and covered a range of topics including staffing levels, wellbeing and occupational health.
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