Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that those who make ‘honest mistakes’ while treating patients should not face prosecution
Doctors and nurses who make ‘honest mistakes’ while treating patients should not face prosecution, Jeremy Hunt said last night.
The Health Secretary accepted the main findings of a review into the use of gross negligence manslaughter charges for health workers amid concerns that fear of criminal proceedings was having a ‘chilling effect’ on the medical profession.
He said new rules will allow medical staff to learn from their errors without fear of prosecution.
But Mr Hunt also announced that, for the first time, every death in the NHS will be scrutinised by a new regime of ‘medical examiners’. It means families should find it easier to receive answers about the death of a loved one.
The Health Secretary ordered the inquiry by eminent surgeon Professor Sir Norman Williams in February, after the outcry over the treatment of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba.
The trainee paediatrician was found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence in 2015 over the death of Jack Adcock, six, at Leicester Royal Infirmary after he developed sepsis in 2011.
A tribunal ruled she should remain on the medical register despite the conviction but in January the General Medical Council succeeded in getting her struck off after taking the case to the High Court.
The GMC’s actions angered many doctors, who complained that important issues raised by the case – including dangerous levels of understaffing and failures of IT systems – had been ignored.
In response, Mr Hunt said he would strip the GMC of the right to appeal against tribunal rulings.
Sir Norman’s report, published today, calls for a ‘clearer understanding’ of when proceedings for gross negligence manslaughter should be brought in healthcare so practitioners are reassured that they will apply only in cases of ‘very poor performance’ and not ‘honest mistakes’.
It also calls for the removal of the GMC’s power to appeal against rulings of the Medical Practitioners’ Tribunal Service, with challenges restricted to the Professional Standards Authority.
Trainee paediatrician Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba was found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence in 2015 over the death of Jack Adcock, six, at Leicester Royal Infirmary
While accepting the findings, Mr Hunt has sought to reassure patients and their families that there will be improved scrutiny of deaths in the NHS.
He will introduce a system of medical examiners – senior doctors who will look at all patient deaths that are not referred to a coroner.
Officials said the changes would mean bereaved families will get more information about the circumstances of their loved ones’ deaths while more data would be shared across the NHS to help prevent avoidable deaths.
Mr Hunt said: ‘When something goes tragically wrong in healthcare, the best apology to grieving families is to guarantee that no one will experience that same heartache again.
‘I was deeply concerned about the unintended chilling effect on clinicians’ ability to learn from mistakes following recent court rulings, and the actions from this authoritative review will help us promise them that the NHS will support them to learn, rather than seek to blame.’