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Duty of Candour: What is it and Why is it Important?

Published At: Tue 30 Jan 2024


In the realm of professional ethics, few principles are as pivotal as the duty of candour. This legal and moral obligation, particularly prevalent in healthcare but extending to various other professions, underscores the paramount importance of honesty, openness, and transparency in interactions with clients, patients, or stakeholders. In this blog post, we'll delve into what the duty of candour entails, why it holds such significance, and how its adherence fosters trust and accountability in professional settings.

Understanding the Duty of Candour

At its core, the duty of candour compels professionals to communicate openly and honestly with those they serve, especially in situations involving adverse events, errors, or breaches of trust. In healthcare, for instance, this obligation mandates that healthcare providers promptly disclose any incidents of harm or mistakes to patients or their families. It encompasses not only the disclosure of adverse events but also sincere apologies, thorough investigations, and proactive measures to prevent recurrences.

The General Medical Council describes the ‘Professional Duty of Candour’ as ‘openness and honesty when things go wrong’:

‘Every health and care professional must be open and honest with patients and people in their care when something that goes wrong with their treatment or care causes, or has the potential to cause, harm or distress.  This means that health and care professionals must:

  • tell the person (or, where appropriate, their advocate, carer or family) when something has gone wrong

  • apologise to the person (or, where appropriate, their advocate, carer or family)

  • offer an appropriate remedy or support to put matters right (if possible)

  • explain fully to the person (or, where appropriate, their advocate, carer or family) the short and long term effects of what has happened.

Health and care professionals must also be open and honest with their colleagues, employers and relevant organisations, and take part in reviews and investigations when requested. They must also be open and honest with their regulators, raising concerns where appropriate. They must support and encourage each other to be open and honest, and not stop someone from raising concerns.’

GMC-UK.org

However, the duty of candour extends beyond the confines of healthcare. Professionals across diverse sectors, including law, finance, counselling, and beyond, are expected to uphold similar standards of transparency and accountability in their dealings. Whether it's a lawyer disclosing potential conflicts of interest to a client or a financial advisor candidly discussing the risks associated with an investment, the underlying principle remains the same: to prioritise honesty and integrity in professional practice.

The Importance of the Duty of Candour

1. Fostering Trust and Building Relationships

Trust forms the bedrock of any professional relationship. By adhering to the duty of candour, professionals demonstrate their commitment to transparency and accountability, thereby strengthening trust with their clients, patients, or stakeholders. When individuals feel that they can rely on their professional counterparts to be forthright and honest, it cultivates a sense of security and confidence in the relationship.

2. Enhancing Patient Safety and Quality of Care

In healthcare, the duty of candour plays a pivotal role in ensuring patient safety and upholding the quality of care. By promptly disclosing adverse events or errors, healthcare providers enable patients to make informed decisions about their treatment options and participate in their care journey. Moreover, transparent communication fosters a culture of learning and continuous improvement within healthcare organisations, leading to enhanced patient safety protocols and quality standards.

3. Upholding Ethical Standards and Professional Integrity

Ethical conduct lies at the heart of the duty of candour. Professionals have a moral obligation to act with honesty and integrity in all their interactions, even when faced with difficult circumstances or mistakes. By embracing transparency and accountability, individuals uphold ethical standards within their respective fields and safeguard the integrity of their professions.

4. Mitigating Legal and Reputational Risks

Failure to fulfil the duty of candour can have legal and reputational ramifications for professionals and organisations alike. In healthcare, for instance, laws and regulations mandate the disclosure of adverse events to patients, and non-compliance can result in legal consequences. Moreover, in an age of heightened public scrutiny and social media amplification, any perceived lack of transparency can tarnish an organisation's reputation irreparably.

Conclusion

In an increasingly interconnected and information-driven world, the duty of candour emerges as a cornerstone of ethical professional practice. Whether in healthcare, law, finance, or other domains, the imperative to communicate openly and honestly with clients, patients, or stakeholders cannot be overstated. By upholding the duty of candour, professionals not only foster trust and transparency but also uphold ethical standards, enhance patient safety, and mitigate legal and reputational risks. In doing so, they reaffirm their commitment to integrity, accountability, and the well-being of those they serve.

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