Doctors and nurses found guilty of neglect may face jail sentence

The government is proposing that doctors and nurses who are found guilty of “wilful neglect” of patients should face jail.

Following a series of truly appalling scandals involving numerous horrendous clinical errors, such as that of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, “wilful neglect” is to become a criminal offence in England and Wales and is to be modelled on one punishable by up to five years in prison under the Mental Capacity Act – consultation to determine what the penalties for this new criminal offence is still required.

This is the result of one of the central recommendations following a patient safety review that was commissioned in the wake of the Stafford Hospital scandal. The report, chaired by Robert Francis QC, actually made a staggering 290 recommendations in an attempt to make sure that such disastrous failings are not repeated, of which the government has accepted 281. Some in the medical profession have, however, expressed fears though that the very threat of criminal sanctions against medical professionals could create a climate of fear within the NHS.

In particular the British Medical Association have raised fears that doctors and nurses might become too scared to speak out about poor care in hospitals when the result could be that a colleague may potentially go to prison. The chief executive of patient safety charity Action Against Medical Accidents, has rejected such arguments though, stating that he had “more faith in the medical profession” than that. It’s also worth pointing out that these scandals took place under the watch of the BMA who, frankly, seem more interested in protecting the interests of their members than in genuinely ensuring patients receive optimal care.

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