OPINION: Let's lend an ear to honesty

Lisa Harker, chair of the Daycare Trust

As the confrontation between the BBC and the Government over the Iraq dossier reached a crescendo, the word you were least likely to hear was 'sorry'.

Both the BBC and the Government believed their professional integrity to be at stake and the last thing that either was going to do was to yield any ground.

'Sorry' is not a favourite word of politicians, but should we be surprised?

On the rare occasions that politicians offer an apology for something they have done we seem to interpret it as an invitation to inflict greater punishment on them.

At the same time that Number 10 was denying the need to apologise to the BBC or anyone else over Iraq, Margaret Hodge MP was touring the radio studios offering bucket loads of contrition.

And look what good it did her. Despite admitting errors she made as leader of Islington Council, and attempting to reassure the public that she had learnt from her experiences, the media hounded the new Minister for Children and Young People, repeatedly publishing evidence of errors made more than ten years ago.

It seems we don't like politicians to lie to us, but we don't welcome honest admissions of guilt either. Wouldn't public service be better for demonstrating more honesty and humility? Those in the NHS seem to think so. Last week the chief medical officer announced changes to the medical complaints system which attempt to change the current adversarial culture surrounding compensation claims.

A 'duty of candour' will be expected of medical professionals who make mistakes and they will be exempt from punishment unless a criminal offence has been committed. Mistakes can have terrible consequences and compensation will be awarded to patients who are harmed because of them, but the NHS has recognised that the interests of patients and professionals are better served if mistakes are viewed as, well, just that.

A duty of candour ought to be more than the preserve of the medical profession.

Wouldn't politics also be better off with a bit less defensiveness and a little more forgiveness?

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