Are you familiar with this use of ‘afraid’?
In this example, it doesn’t mean that the health professional is scared (the most common meaning of afraid). Instead, in combination with I’m or We’re, it means ‘sorry’.
Appropriate use is when a patient is requesting something you understand is important to them but which you can’t agree to. It demonstrates your empathy and regret that you can’t meet the request.
Here’s another example:
Patient: Will I be able to return to playing sports by next month?
Doctor: It’s unlikely, I’m afraid. Even with regular physio. There’s too much risk for a repeat of the injury.
In the second example, the doctor continues from saying ‘I’m afraid’ to provide a reason. This adds to the empathy provided by the phrase and helps the patient to understand your use of it.