Duty of candour

Organisations that provide health, care and social work services need to be able to learn effectively from what goes well and from what goes wrong. These are opportunities to improve the safety and quality of their services.

If something goes wrong with your treatment or care, health and social care organisations have a duty to you or the person acting on your behalf to:

  • apologise
  • be open and honest
  • involve you in a review of what happened
  • let you know how they will learn from what has happened

These are legal obligations under the duty of candour procedure.

When should the duty of candour procedure be followed?

The duty of candour procedure must be followed as soon as possible after an unintended or unexpected incident which appears to have caused harm or death.

The death or harm should not be related to the natural course of the illness or part of an underlying condition that you are being treated for.

A health professional, not involved in your care, will decide if the duty of candour procedure must be followed.

The duty of candour process


All the facts may not be clear at the time so the organisation will review the incident. You will be:

  • given an explanation of what the organisation knows about the incident at that time and what actions it will take
  • invited to meet with the organisation
  • given the chance to ask questions before the meeting

Before the meeting

To prepare for the meeting you could:

  • think about any questions or concerns you may have about what has happened
  • write down some basic notes of what you would like to ask

Before the meeting you may think about:

  • bringing someone with you for support during the discussion
  • getting independent advice on matters such as advocacy

This should be someone whom you are comfortable with and don’t mind sharing personal information with.

At the meeting

At the meeting, you will:

  • be told about the incident and be given an explanation of any further steps that will be taken to review it
  • have an opportunity to express your views and ask questions
  • be offered a written apology

Shortly after the meeting, you will be given a note of what was discussed and the contact details of an individual member of staff acting on behalf of the organisation.


The organisation must carry out a review of the circumstances which they consider led or contributed to the incident. This could take some time as there is often a lot of information to be gathered and analysed.

The review is expected to be completed within 3 months from when the organisation first contacts you to notify you that an incident has occurred. If this is not possible, the organisation must give you an explanation why.

You must be offered a written copy of the report of the review which will include anything that the organisation is doing to improve the quality of care and support provided by them as a result of the review.

Organisations are required by law to publish an annual report outlining details of the duty of candour incidents that have occurred. Please be assured that this will not include any personal or identifying information.

Last updated:
05 December 2022

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