Legislation to help public bodies apologise without fear of litigation has been proposed by Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell.
The member’s Bill, which will be put out for consultation next month, will seek to clarify the position of apologies in Scots law and aims to help bring closure to individuals and families who have been wronged by public bodies such as the NHS or local authorities.
However, the Scottish Government has said it also intends to launch a consultation on the issue of no-fault compensation shortly.
Mitchell has argued that her Bill would allow public bodies to apologise more quickly and sincerely and is also a good example of preventative spending, pointing out that according to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman the cost of cases can rise by 40 per cent if an apology is not made in the early stages of proceedings.
“Every MSP will have had the experience of speaking to constituents who have not had an incident dealt with properly by an organisation like the NHS or a local council,” she said.
“Often all they are seeking is an apology to gain closure and an assurance that the same thing won’t happen to them or other families.
“However, it is the fear of litigation which often prevents these organisations from making an apology, so if the meaning was changed to an expression of regret rather than automatically encompassing fault, that would change.”
“As a result, people could achieve the closure they have been seeking.”
Similar no-fault systems are already in place in countries such as Sweden, New Zealand, Finland, Denmark and Norway, and parts of the United States, and the issue is also already being considered by the Scottish Government.
In 2009 Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon announced a short-life working group, which was led by law and medical ethics expert, Professor Sheila McLean, would be established to explore the potential benefits for patients of moving to a no-fault compensation scheme. Last year the Scottish Government accepted the findings of the review group, which recommended changing the current adversarial court system to one of no-fault compensation whereby patients who have suffered loss, injury or damage as a result of healthcare treatment could be compensated without having to take the NHS to court.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said that the government now intends to consult on how such a scheme would work in practice in Scotland.
“Ministers are focused on ensuring that complaints about public services should be able to be resolved more easily for services users.
“In 2010 the Scottish Parliament empowered the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) to create principles for procedures for handling public service complaints. The SPSO principles have been approved by the Scottish Parliament and public authorities, such as local authorities and the NHS, have now put complaints handling procedures in place based on these principles.
“Since the publication of the No Fault Compensation Review Group’s report, further analysis has been undertaken around the potential costs of introducing such a scheme and this is currently under consideration. We will produce a consultation document shortly to seek views and explore how such a scheme would work in practice.”
Openness and transparency can improve the quality and safety of healthcare: http://www.holyrood.com/articles/2011/10/03/listen-and-learn/