Apologising and saying sorry

Offering a sincere apology to a patient who has been harmed by a patient safety incident and/or their support person - saying sorry - is a key component of open disclosure.

Planning an Apology

Before meeting with the patient and/or their support person, health care staff should plan who will provide the apology and what will be covered. Preparation includes reviewing important factors to include in an apology, in particular the words "I am sorry" or "we are sorry", and what not to include.

Key Points

The overall success of open disclosure can depend on how an apology is delivered. Key points for those engaging in open disclosure are:

  • Do not fear saying sorry
  • Acknowledge that the incident has occurred and that the patient has been harmed, or potentially harmed, as a result
  • Listen
  • Demonstrate empathy with the patient and/or their support person
  • Consider your delivery

The Effect of an Apology on Liability

Open disclosure in clinical settings is of such importance that NSW has enacted laws to protect statements of apology made after a patient safety incident from subsequent use in civil proceedings [1].


[1] NSW Civil Liability Act 2002