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Will NHS Staff Face Jail for Mistreating Patients?

An amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill proposes fines and prison for healthcare staff found guilty of ill-treatment or wilful neglect.

No doubt this is a response to concerns raised by the Mid-Staffordshire Hospitals enquiry and accounts of abuse of elderly people in care homes.

The MDU & MPS which represent doctors has expressed concerns and the head of MPS medical services is quoted as saying that this will have a ‘huge impact’ on the professional lives of doctors. Estimates of 240 prosecutions have appeared in the media.
In reality the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill is unlikely to have any significant effect on medical care in hospitals. Far from having a ‘huge impact’ it is unlikely that doctors will even notice it.

Cases of ill-treatment or wilful neglect outside care homes, where sadly vulnerable elderly people can lack protection, are extremely rare. Most medical professional and nurses are highly motivated and have entered their professions because their want to care for the sick.
An analysis of the caseload at our (busy) specialist Clinical Negligence law firm suggests that the problems leading to patient harm fall broadly into certain categories and none are marked by wilful neglect. They are:

  1. Failing to make the right medical diagnosis or to refer to a specialist when necessary.
  2. Failing to carry out x-rays or scans when needed or failing to interpret them correctly.
  3. Medical mistakes during operations.
  4. Nurses failing to note patients deteriorating and to use ‘Early Warning Scores’ correctly.
  5. Nurses failing to prevent patients developing pressure sores.

There are of course other categories. However none of them arise from wilful neglect or deliberate ill-treatment.
If healthcare staff wilfully ill-treat a patient/s they deserve prosecution. However outside the rare cases well-publicised by the media of medical staff wilfully causing harm, wilful ill-treatment is thankfully rare.

As a Clinical Negligence Solicitor with many years' experience dealing with a wide variety of cases, my own prediction is that the number of prosecutions of NHS hospital staff, as opposed to prosecutions of care home staff, will be much nearer 0 than 240 and I doubt the amendment to the Bill will make any noticeable difference.

Paul Sankey is a Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

Slater and Gordon offer a free consultation for victims of clinical negligence and/or medical mistakes. Call us 24 hours 7 days a week on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online and we will call you.

We can also assist if you suspect that an elderly person has been ill-treated or neglected in a nursing home, see Care Home Compensation Claims.

Slater and Gordon are a leading Clinical Negligence Law Firm with over 1,200 staff in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Milton Keynes, Sheffield, Halifax, Newcastle, Wakefield, Cambridge; and meeting rooms where you can meet with a Clinical Negligence Solicitor in Bramhall, Cheshire.