New offence of wilful neglect to be introduced for health professionals

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

The government’s response to the Francis Report has outlined that wilful neglect will be made a criminal offence in England and Wales.  This means that doctors and nurses could face jail sentences if found guilty of the new offence.  The offence is intended to apply only to the most extreme types of poor care.

If found guilty of the offence individuals could face a term of up to five years in prison.  A consultation will be carried out over the next few months to determine the scale of sentence that should be applied.

The introduction of the offence, along with its criminal sanctions, has been criticised by some stating it could create a climate of fear within the NHS.  The British Medical Association has warned that health professionals may be less likely to speak out against colleagues if they thought they would go to jail as a result.  Dr Andrew Collier, co-chairman of the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee, said “they don’t need this new climate of fear.  They don’t need to be concerned that they may be sent to jail.  What they need to do is learn from their mistakes and develop their practice.”

Dr Maureen Baker from the Royal College of GPs stated “Doctors, nurses – we are human.  Human beings make mistakes.  You can’t change the human conditions, but you can help support the humans in having systems around them that help keep them safe, caring and compassionate.”

Others have welcomed the change, rejecting the suggestion that the sanction would make people more reluctant to report colleagues.  Prime Minister David Cameron stated that doctors and nurses who wilfully neglect patients will “feel the full force of the law” following the new package of measures put forward in the government’s response.

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