'Sorry' needn't be the hardest word for public sector organisations

The Apology Clause campaign launched last week to make it easier for organisations to behave with compassion when things go wrong, and for victims to have better recoveries.

'Sorry' really shouldn't be the hardest word, argues Nick Wright
'Sorry' really shouldn't be the hardest word, argues Nick Wright
The NHS already says that "saying sorry… is the right thing to do" when something has gone wrong.  
Our campaign is to encourage the rest of the public sector, and the private sector, to take up that mantra.

When the Grenfell Tower caught fire in June this year, its immediate aftermath was characterised by a blame game as the various parties felt forced to explain why it wasn’t their fault, rather than collaborate on finding out what had happened and co-ordinating support. 

Eventually, apologies came – from both Theresa May and the new leader of Kensington & Chelsea Council – but it was too little and too late.

Faizah Shaheen was detained at the airport after reading a book about Syrian art while flying back from her honeymoon on Thomson Airways. 

Thomson said: "We’re really sorry if Ms Shaheen remains unhappy with how she feels she was treated."  She had been reading a book.

A meaningful apology shouldn’t be difficult, but too often when things go wrong, organisations are forced to choose between their fear of the law and what they might believe is their moral obligation. 

This impacts not only the reputation of the organisation but also the people who have suffered. 
Pressure from legal advisers, insurers and conventional wisdom remains the dominant force, and so organisations clam up and don’t do the right thing.

We want to change this. 

The law is very clear. The Compensation Act 2006 says: "An apology, an offer of treatment or other redress shall not itself amount to an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty." 

A meaningful apology shouldn’t be difficult, but too often when things go wrong, organisations are forced to choose between their fear of the law and what they might believe is their moral obligation

Nick Wright, co-founder of the Apology Clause campaign
In the healthcare sector, the NHS Litigation Authority is equally clear: "Saying sorry is not an admission of legal liability; it is the right thing to do."

The real difficulty is that the legal position is not well known by organisations, lawyers and insurance companies. Even if it is known, it is largely untested, so advisers resist using it.  

Our campaign seeks to raise awareness of the law, to get it used more often and, ultimately, to get it clarified with a new Act of Parliament. 

Of course, there is the danger that apologies become the default position in any crisis – a ‘get out of jail’ card that can simply be used when things get too difficult. 

We are very clear on this – it’s not necessarily more apologies, but better ones that are required: ones that include a commitment to look at the circumstances behind the event with a view to prevent it from ever happening again.

This campaign genuinely helps those affected move on, it enhances organisational reputation and, perhaps most importantly, it is simply the right thing to do. 

Nick Wright is an independent comms consultant and one of three co-founders of the Apology Clause campaign

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