Government releases gross negligence manslaughter review

Professor Sir Norman Williams’ review explores issues raised by healthcare professionals and the bereaved alike

A review into gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare settings has been published, as requested by Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, and undertaken by Professor Sir Norman Williams. The aim of Gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare is to ensure more consideration is put into wider patient safety following concerns from healthcare professionals that simple errors can result in prosecution for gross negligence manslaughter.

There is a particular concern that this fear has a negative impact on aforementioned professionals feeling able to be open and transparent if an untoward event occurs. For this report,the panel heard from numerous individuals and organisations including bereaved families, healthcare professionals and their representative bodies, lawyers, authorities and members of the public.

The report goes on to make recommendations to support a learning culture in healthcare where professionals should feel able to raise concerns and reflect openly on their mistakes, while ensuring that those responsible for sub-par standards of care are held accountable.

Healthcare professionals will see the following changes happen:

  • Revised guidance to investigatory and prosecutorial bodies and a clearer understanding of the bar for gross negligence manslaughter in law aims to lead to criminal investigations focusing only on rare cases where an individual’s performance is categorised as “truly, exceptionally bad” and requires a criminal sanction.
  • Systemic issues and human factors will be considered alongside the individual actions of healthcare professionals where errors are made leading to death.
  • Bereaved families will be provided support through being informed of any untoward event that might have contributed to the death of a family member/loved one.
  • They will be provided with the opportunity to be actively involved throughout the investigative process.
  • Bereaved families will also be thoroughly supported throughout the process and receive honest explanations if things do go wrong.
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Responding to Professor Sir Norman William’ review, MDDUS chief executive Chris Kenny said:

“We commend Sir Norman and his team on the speed and thoroughness of the report and thank the panel for allowing MDDUS the opportunity to provide comments and feed into their thoughts. It is important to maintain that urgency and comprehensive approach through the implementation phase.

“Facing an investigation is extremely stressful and it is natural for doctors to fear the worst. We believe that there is compelling evidence of the harm caused by the prospect and process of investigation even though, as the report highlights, actual convictions are vanishingly small with very few investigations leading to sanctions.

“We agree the need for high standards and current relevant clinical experience for expert witnesses and welcome the proposed clarification on not using reflective material for fitness to practise (FtP) investigations unless, of course, the practitioner feels it is relevant. The proposals to ensure greater understanding of the law and more consistency in policy and coronal actions are also welcome.”

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