Legislative changes to wilful neglect and ill-treatment

From next year, wilful neglect or ill-treatment of adults in health and social care services could become criminal offences according to the Department of Health.

Yesterday, the DoH published a consultation response regarding plans to introduce the new offences as part of the existing Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which should come into effect in 2015.

Under the proposals, wilful neglect and ill treatment would also apply to services where children receive healthcare, including young offenders’ institutions, but not to schools, children’s homes, residential family centres or childcare services. The new measures will protect adults receiving domiciliary care but not those cared for informally, such as by a friend or family member.

According to the DoH, these legislative changes will apply in England and Wales once “the bulk” of consultation respondents have backed the move. The new offences would allow the prosecution of both health and social care staff and organisations.

The DoH said penalties for individual offenders would be similar to those for committing similar crimes under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which are imprisonment for up to five years and/or fines. Penalties for providers will be similar to those for corporate manslaughter, such as fines, and/or “naming and shaming” through publicity orders and remedial orders to require the company to address the failing that led to the offence. The threshold for the new legislation will concentrate on the conduct of the person accused rather than the level of harm to the victim.

Some respondents to the consultation did not support the idea of new legislation because they felt existing legislation was adequate. They were also concerned that the proposed offences might make health and care staff less open when things go wrong and might lead to some employees being scapegoated when the failing was that of their employer to provide proper systems and training.

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