Understanding the Difference Between Statutory and Professional Duty of Candour in Healthcare

In any healthcare setting, transparency and honesty are paramount to ensuring patient trust and safety. Two critical concepts that embody these values are the statutory duty of candour and the professional duty of candour. While both are essential for promoting an ethical healthcare environment, they have distinct implications and applications. This blog will explore the differences between these duties and what they mean for healthcare organisations.

Statutory Duty of Candour

Definition: The statutory duty of candour is a legal obligation imposed on healthcare organisations by the regulators and relates to Regulation 20 of the Health and Social Care Act. It requires all organisations to be open and honest with patients and their families when something goes wrong that causes or has the potential to cause significant harm. Significant harm being the trigger for statutory duty of candour. These incidents must be reported to the regulator by way of a statutory notification.

Key Features:

  1. Legal Requirement: The statutory duty of candour is enforced by law (the health and social care act). Non-compliance can result in legal penalties, including fines and other regulatory actions.
  2. Organisational Responsibility: This duty applies to healthcare organisations as a whole, rather than individual healthcare professionals.
  3. Specific Triggers: The statutory duty is activated by specific incidents, typically those resulting in moderate to severe harm or death.
  4. Documentation and Reporting: Healthcare organisations must document the incident, report it to the appropriate authorities, and communicate openly with the affected patient and their family.

Implications for Healthcare Organisations:

  • Compliance: Organisations must ensure they have systems and processes in place to identify and respond to incidents that trigger the statutory duty of candour.
  • Training: Staff must be trained to understand the requirements and procedures related to the duty of candour.
  • Transparency: Healthcare organisations need to foster a culture of transparency, ensuring that incidents are reported promptly and handled with honesty and empathy.

Professional Duty of Candour

Definition: The professional duty of candour is an ethical obligation that applies to individual healthcare professionals. It requires them to be honest and transparent with patients, colleagues, and regulatory bodies about their actions, especially when errors or adverse events occur.

Key Features:

  1. Ethical Obligation: Unlike the statutory duty, the professional duty of candour is rooted in professional ethics and standards rather than legal requirements.
  2. Individual Responsibility: This duty applies to individual healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers.
  3. Broad Scope: The professional duty of candour is broader in scope, encompassing not only significant incidents but also minor errors and near-misses.
  4. Continuous Practice: It encourages continuous honesty and transparency in all professional interactions, not just when specific incidents occur.

Implications for Healthcare Professionals:

  • Ethical Practice: Professionals must adhere to high ethical standards, being honest with patients and colleagues at all times.
  • Accountability: Individual healthcare providers are accountable for their actions and must take responsibility when things go wrong.
  • Supportive Environment: Organisations should support their staff by creating an environment where professionals feel safe to admit mistakes without fear of undue punishment.

What This Means for Healthcare Organisations

The distinction between statutory and professional duties of candour highlights the need for healthcare organisations to operate on multiple levels of transparency and honesty. Here’s how these duties influence organisational practices:

  1. Integrated Approach: Healthcare organisations must integrate both statutory and professional duties into their policies and practices, ensuring that legal requirements are met while also fostering an ethical culture.
  2. Systems and Processes: Effective systems must be in place to ensure that both statutory and professional duties of candour are upheld consistently.


In conclusion, understanding and implementing both the statutory and professional duties of candour is crucial for healthcare organisations aiming to provide safe, effective, and ethical care. The statutory duty of candour ensures that organisations are legally accountable for significant incidents, promoting transparency and responsibility at an institutional level. Meanwhile, the professional duty of candour encourages individual healthcare professionals to maintain high ethical standards, fostering a culture of honesty and continuous improvement.

Healthcare organisations must adopt a comprehensive approach that integrates these duties into their everyday practices. This includes establishing robust systems for incident reporting, providing thorough training for staff, and creating an environment where transparency is valued and supported. By doing so, healthcare organisations can enhance patient trust, improve safety outcomes, and uphold the integrity of the healthcare profession.

Swift Management Support

We appreciate that for many small and medium-sized healthcare providers may not have manager moderate to server incidents on a regular basis, meaning when they do, they may require some assistance to follow the processes needed to complete a detailed investigation, and take from it the lessons learnt to prevent the incident happening again. At Swift Management we have a team of experts in both acute and long-term care who can support a provider when the need arises.

For a confidential discussion with one of our experts contact Swift Management Services by visiting our website and booking a consultation www.swiftmanagement.org.uk or by calling 020 8087 2072.