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Call for negligent NHS staff to be criminally prosecuted

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
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Investigations in 2009 and 2010 identified that between 400 and 1,200 more people died than would have been expected at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. In addition, patients were found abandoned without food, drink or medication. Some were left in pain or needing the toilet, or sat in soiled bedding for hours at a time.
 
In the Journal of Medical Ethics, researchers from the University of Manchester’s Centre for Social Ethics and Policy state that, unfortunately, Mid Staffordshire is not the first example of “abysmal” NHS care and would not be the last.
 
Current law stipulates that NHS staff in England can only face prosecution if a serious error results in the death of a patient. In addition, doctors and nurses caring for patients under the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act can be prosecuted for willful neglect. However, in light of scandals such as Mid Staffordshire, University of Manchester researchers have called for a French-style “gross dereliction of duty” charge to be introduced for cases of neglect.
 
Researchers have urged the Government to consider creating a criminal offence of willful neglect to hold individual NHS managers and workers to account where a ‘deliberate course of conduct’ has led to the ill treatment of a patient. The researchers explain that “if wilful neglect was extended to the wider healthcare setting, liability would only ensue if the healthcare professional was indifferent to his/her patient’s welfare.”
 
The researchers conclude that "in the event of conviction, it would send a clear societal message to those with managerial and professional responsibility within the NHS that this sort of conduct is not acceptable and indeed undermines the very basis of the social contract on which the NHS was originally founded."
 
It is this writer’s opinion that all avenues should be explored, including the possibility of criminal prosecution, to ensure the safety of patients and to improve the standards of care they receive. If you believe the treatment you have received is also below a reasonable standard then we have a dedicated team of clinical negligence solicitors who would be happy to advise you further. Call us for free initial advice on 0844 245 6602.
 
 

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