The duty came into effect in all new contracts for provision of NHS healthcare from 1 April 2013.
The Dental Defence Union (DDU) says dentists working in hospitals will need guidance about what is required of them under the new duty and has issued advice explaining how it will sit with their existing professional duty to be trustworthy.
The DDU’s dento-legal adviser, Leo Briggs, said: ‘The new standard NHS contract is being used by all organisations commissioning NHS healthcare services, with the exception of services commissioned under primary care contracts. The contract requires all providers of services to NHS patients to comply with the duty of candour and the commissioning body can recover up to £10,000 from the provider if there is a breach.
‘For very many years, we have advised our members to let patients know as soon as something goes wrong and to apologise if appropriate, explaining what has happened and what they are going to do to put it right. Dentists also have a professional duty to do this, so it is nothing new in itself. But it is in the interests of all providers to ensure they have guidance in place for members of staff about the contractual duty of candour and set out how the organisation will comply.
‘Hospital dentists will be involved in ensuring patients are told when something goes wrong. While the contractual duty of candour only applies to incidents that result in moderate or severe harm or death, the DDU advises that dentists have a wider professional duty and should continue to inform patients in the usual way any time something goes wrong.
‘There may be some confusion within organisations and among patients, carers and relatives about the sort of incident that will be covered by the contractual duty and even dispute about the extent of that duty.
‘Hospital dentists should be aware of their own organisation’s duty of candour guidance and make sure they follow their organisation’s procedures. It is very likely that careful note-taking will become even more important, not just in documenting discussions and explanations for the patient’s record, but also in ensuring that, when an incident occurs that invokes the duty, all the appropriate paperwork is completed.’