Duty of Candour - 'Robbie's Law'

UPDATE November 2017

History made today as "duty of candour" becomes law - more action needed to make nhs cover ups a thing of the past

27th November 2014 marked an historic moment for the NHS in England. The statutory Duty of Candour -  a legal duty to be open and honest with patients or their families when things go wrong that can cause harm – comes into force.

Action against Medical Accidents (“AvMA” – the charity for patient safety & justice) has campaigned for such a duty for two decades and together with the recommendation of such a duty from Sir Robert Francis following the Mid Staffordshire public inquiry, helped persuade Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to agree to it. Successive Governments had refused to go as far as making honesty when things go wrong a statutory requirement. The Duty of Candour applies to all NHS trusts and will be regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which has severe sanctions available for NHS trusts who do not comply including, ultimately, criminal sanctions.

For full press release click here

UPDATE March 2014


Jeremy Hunt has finally agreed to implement a full statutory Duty of Candour in England, after months of lobbying by AvMA and others.  The Duty of Candour will be part of the CQC regulations covering all providers of health or social care in England.  There is currently a consultation on the regulations themselves which closes on 25th April.  Read AvMA CEO Peter Walsh's blog for Channel 4 News.

UPDATE February 2014


The General Medical Council and Nursing and Midwifery Council are the latest bodies to tell the review looking at the statutory Duty of Candour to include any significant harm.  They join the CQC, Royal College of Nursing and leading patients' organisations headed by AvMA.  Read AvMA's briefing on the Duty of Candour.  The review was ordered by Jeremy Hunt after AvMA objected to plans to restrict the duty to fatal and severe permanent disability cases only.

UPDATE December 2013


The Board of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) today gave unequivocal support for the Duty of Candour to cover all incidents of significant harm. A review set up by Jeremy Hunt is currently considering whether or not to restrict the duty only to cases where death or severe permanent disability is known to have been caused. As CQC is the national regulator which will be responsible for enforcing the Duty, and its views are shared by all leading patients' organisations and the likes of the Royal College of Nursing, it makes the case for all incidents of significant harm to be covered even more forceful.

UPDATE: November 2013


The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Healthwatch England (the official national body for patients) have both called for the new statutory Duty of Candour to cover all incidents of significant harm. Jeremy Hunt agreed to review the previously intended restriction to fatal and severe harm/permanent disability cases after representations from AvMA.  A range of bodies including National Voices (the umbrella group for patients' charities) and Patients First (the whistleblower support group) have already backed AvMA's calls for the restriction to be lifted.  Mr. Hunt is due to decide before Christmas. 

Read our briefing on why the Duty of Candour should cover all incidents causing significant harm.


The so called “Duty of Candour” - one of the flagship policies announced today by Jeremy Hunt in response to the Francis report on Mid Staffordshire -  is to be re-thought following pressure from AvMA.  AvMA and other patients’ groups were furious that the duty of candour – a legal duty on healthcare organisations to be open and honest with patients whom they have harmed – is to be restricted only to cases where death or severe permanent injury is known to have been caused under current plans. They pointed out that this would mean that the vast majority of incidents which cause significant harm would not be covered by this rule, meaning that organisations would be breaking no statutory rule in covering up such incidents. More…


AvMA is concerned as to whether the Government will press ahead with controversial plans to limit the Duty of Candour to only fatal and very severe cases of harm.  Efforts are being made to persuade Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, otherwise before he makes his full resonse to the Francis report on Tuesday 19th November, 1pm.

See AvMA's Briefing

See AvMA's Media Statement


At the request of the public inquiry into hyponatraemia-related deaths, Peter Walsh gave evidence to the inquiry in Belfast on 11th November for the whole morning.  The chairman was particularly interested to hear the rationale for a Duty of Candour and practical considerations about complaints handling.


AvMA hosted a conference jointly with the Medical Injuries Alliance in Dublin today.  A range of speakers made the case for guaranteed openness with patients/families when things go wrong, including first hand accounts of families who had not been dealt with openly.


Following the Mid Staffordshire Public Inquiry, the Government has indicated that they will introduce a statutory Duty of Candour in the Care Quality Commission regulations.  However, it has emerged that it is intended to limit the Duty of Candour only to fatal and the most severe cases of harm.  AvMA is working hard to change Ministers' minds over this.  Read AvMA's Briefing

UPDATE: September 2012

A new article in the Journal of Professional Negligence
(Bloomsbury Professional publishers)  by Dr Oliver Quick from the University of Bristol explains connections between the law and patient safety and makes a powerful argument for a legal Duty of Candour.  To view the article click here 

UPDATE: July 2012

A new petition for Robbie's Law has been launched on the Government website.  Please sign here even if you signed the original petition.

UPDATE: May 2012

The Government refused attempts to introduce a statutory Duty of Candour in the Health & Social Care Bill and have said they will introduce a "contractual duty" instead.  However, they have not announced how or when.  Ministers have acknowledged that the Mid Staffordshire public inquiry may have something to say on this.  The report is expected in October 2012.


Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) - the charity which promotes patient safety and supports people affected by medical accidents - is proposing a practical and pragmatic way of introducing a legal Duty of Candour about harm caused in healthcare.  (A legal requirement to practice being open and honest with patients or their next of kin when harm is caused).  For our latest briefing on the need for this click here.

The proposal is to introduce this duty as a requirement in the regulations covering registration with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in England and in the Healthcare Standards for Wales (and the equivalent bodies in the rest of the UK).  This would mean that any organisation registered to provide healthcare would have a corporate Duty of Candour.  Failure to demonstrate compliance could result in refusal or removal of registration, fines, and/or requirements to take remedial action.

AvMA wants the Duty of Candour to be known as "Robbie's Law" in honour of Robbie Powell and his parents.  Robbie's case has come to symbolize the need for a legal duty of candour (see below).


Why is there a need for a legal ‘Duty of Candour'?

There is a wide consensus that whilst things may have improved, and that the vast majority of health professionals are open and honest, providers of healthcare are not always as open and honest with patients or their relatives when things go wrong as they should be.  That is certainly AvMA's experience, as the main supporter of people when things do go wrong in healthcare for over 25 years.  However, don't just take our word for it:-

  • The House of Commons Health Committee report on Patient Safety (July 2009) recommends reconsideration of a legal Duty of Candour, and the campaign is widely supported by patients' activists and other organisations.
  • A National Audit Office report in 2005 revealed that only 24% of NHS trusts routinely informed patients of a patient safety incident and, astonishingly, 6% admitted to never informing patients (A Safer Place for Patients, National Audit Office, 2005).
  • The Department of Health itself accepts that there is a ‘culture of denial' in the NHS (Safety First, Department of Health, 2006).
  • Although there are estimated to be over 1 million patient safety incidents alone in English hospitals alone each year, 50% of which are estimated to cause avoidable harm, the NHS receives only about 6,000 clinical negligence claims each year. Reporting of incidents to the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) from primary care is negligible.
  • AvMA's casework regularly comes across examples of where there has not been open and honest reporting of incidents to patients or their families even after a complaint has been made, and even in the majority of clinical negligence cases which eventually settle in favour of the claimant, opportunities to be open and honest have been missed.
  • The Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, formally recommended a legal Duty of Candour in his report Making Amends in 2003. The Government have never offered a satisfactory explanation to justify their rejection of this recommendation.
  • The UK is lagging behind other parts of the world that have made such a legal duty with successful results, helping create a genuinely open and fair ‘patient safety culture'. (For example, some states in the United States such as Pennsylvania, and European countries such as Sweden, France Denmark, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary and Slovenia)1.

The failure to report incidents means that the NHS is deprived of information which could help prevent reoccurrence of the same mistakes, as well as depriving injured patients or their next of kin their natural right to know what happened and why. 

Widespread Support for the Campaign:

Harry Cayton, Chair of the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (the regulator of health professional regulators) said:

"We support the introduction of a duty of candour in the CQC's registration requirements, which would mean that the ethical responsibility of health professionals would be shared by organisations delivering healthcare services".

Ruth Marsden, Vice Chair of the National Association of LINks members, said:

"NALM is committed to the protection of patients in health care and believes that there should be a legal ‘duty of candour' which places a duty of all health care professionals to be open and frank with patients.  We are disturbed that the opportunity to introduce a legal ‘duty of candour' has been side-stepped by Government, which has decided to introduce a requirement to report adverse events in health or social care in England to the regulator but not the patients and carers who should be at the centre of health care.

We will be demanding that the Government amends the draft regulations for Care Quality Commission (CQC) laid before Parliament this week to include a duty of candour to patients as well as regulators".

Claire Rayner said:

"This is an issue that should have been dealt with years ago.  As one who has personally suffered iatrogenic damage I know the sense of helpless anger it (failure to be open and honest) induces".

Frequently asked Questions and Misunderstandings

‘Doesn't the professional duty that all health professionals have to be honest with patients mean that a legal duty is unnecessary?'

The so-called ‘professional duty' of health professionals contained in health professionals' codes of conduct only applies to health professionals. The duty should rest equally with health managers and boards as well. Also, the ‘professional' or ‘ethical' duty on health professionals is not a legal duty.  It is guidance contained in their professional codes.  Regulators have been inconsistent in how they use their discretion to enforce this duty.

‘The NHS already promotes ‘Being Open' through the guidance and training provided by the National Patient Safety Agency, and there is the NHS Constitution, so there is no need for a law'

The Being Open guidance produced by the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) is a useful tool and says the right things, but it is only guidance. This sends out the wrong message. NHS boards have many targets and other ‘must do's' on their agenda and are unlikely to give this guidance top priority. Also, it only applies to the NHS whereas a legal duty would also cover private healthcare. The NHS Constitution also is restricted to the NHS, and whilst it makes a valuable statement of principle, there is no way of enforcing it.

‘Making laws does not change culture'

It may be true to say that simply passing a law does not in itself change culture and behaviour, but it can make a massive difference in helping bring about change. Take for example the effect of legislation to ban smoking in public places; for the use of seat belts; and on drink-driving.

"It is too complex or difficult to regulate something like candour/being honest"

The draft regulations for the Care Quality Commission and the Healthcare Standards for Wales already contain duties such as obtaining informed consent and treating patients with dignity and respect.  These are complex and difficult to define also but, quite rightly, are a requirement of registration.  The approach is to have a ‘high level' requirement stated in the regulations themselves.  The accompanying guidance will provide more detail on what is expected and how the Care Quality Commission will judge whether the requirement is being met.

"Would health providers have to report ‘near misses'?"

No.  It is accepted that discretion is needed as to whether it might do more harm than good to tell a patient about a ‘near miss' in their care.  It is proposed that the new duty only covers incidents which meet the NPSA definition of ‘patient safety incident' which are known to have resulted in harm to the patient.

Why call it "Robbie's Law"?  

Although there are many other cases where there has not been openness and honesty when things go wrong in healthcare, and even of deliberate ‘cover-up', Robbie Powell's case has become a symbol for the need for a legal duty of candour. His family have campaigned tirelessly and courageously for nineteen years not only for justice for Robbie, but to ensure that other families to not have the same experience. It was Robbie's case which highlighted the absence of a legal duty of candour. Robbie's case has been the subject of a landmark judicial review challenge by AvMA of a General Medical Council decision not even to investigate serious, evidenced allegations of forgery as part of an attempted cover-up and ongoing dishonesty by doctors involved in Robbie's case.

1 ‘Simpatie' - Safety Improvement for Patients in Europe


For our latest briefing for the need for Robbie's law click here

For the amazing story of Robbie and his family's struggle for justice in his father's own words click here

For background on AvMA's judicial review of the GMC decision click here

For further information on the need for ‘Robbie's Law' from his family click here



  • Raise awareness and support for the campaign in your own organisation and networks

  • Contact your MP and ask him or her to support the campaign

  • Write to Andrew Lansley MP, Secretary of State for Health (Please copy correspondence to AvMA)

  • Contact us with your full details at

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