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NMC consultation on revised Code of Conduct: duty of candour

The Nursing & Midwifery Council ('NMC') has launched the second phase of a consultation (ending on 14 August) on revising its Code (the standards of good nursing and midwifery practice) and The Nursing & Midwifery Council ('NMC') has launched the second phase of a consultation (ending on 14 August) on revising its Code (the standards of good nursing and midwifery practice) and implementing revalidation. The new code and revalidation model are due to come into force in December 2015. We discuss below new provisions relating to the duty of candour and strengthened requirements in relation to complaints.

Paragraph 4 of the draft code provides: 'You must exercise your professional duty of candour and give a constructive and honest response to anyone who complains about the care they have received, including an apology where appropriate.' Paragraphs 101 to 107 relate to providing information to enable people to make a complaint relating to the care received, the way in which complaints must be handled, escalating concerns about patients' or public safety, explaining why something has gone wrong, cooperating with investigations into incidents and reflecting on feedback.

Proposed requirements for dealing with complaints are also made more stringent than in the current version of the code, placing an emphasis on documenting incidents where harm has occurred and escalating this information so that action can be taken quickly. The duty to cooperate and assist with investigations in various forms has also been clarified, as has the obligation to raise concerns about patient and/or public safety – effectively the 'whistle-blowing duty'.

In the post-Francis era, it is perhaps not surprising that a duty of candour has been introduced or that the need to deal with complaints appropriately and effectively is emphasised. Notwithstanding this, it will be interesting to see whether and how the new requirement to issue an apology in particular will work in practice. It is conceivable that it could be construed in certain circumstances to constitute an admission of negligence and it is not hard to see individual nurses being put under pressure by their employers not to issue apologies in order to avoid the employers being held liable in civil actions.

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