negligenceThe Government is consulting on making “wilful neglect” of patients a criminal offence in England as recommended by a working group looking at how patient care could be improved following the Mid Staffs Hospital scandal, according to OnMedica.

Any health professional successfully prosecuted could face up to five years imprisonment and/or £5,000 in fines, under the proposals, says the Department of Health consultation paper and impact assessment on proposed new legislation. The organisations that employ them could face large financial penalties.

The recommendation for an offence to apply to the NHS came from an advisory group chaired by Don Berwick, an international expert on patient safety, after the Francis Report on Mid Staffs. But ministers believe it should apply far more widely, and also cover private hospitals, nursing homes and voluntary sector services.

The Department of Health says the criminal offence will send a strong message that poor care will not be tolerated.

Further reading: WMAS vice-chair Tony Yeaman's blog on how the duty of candour should be applied day-to-day

Care and support minister, Norman Lamb, said: "This is not about punishing honest mistakes – it is about closing the gap in current laws so that this type of poor care cannot go unpunished."

The consultation document, New offence of ill-treatment or wilful neglect, says that genuine errors or accidents would not lead to prosecution but rather be used as a way of learning to improve the quality of services. 

The document says that the plan is to create a new “general offence of wilful or reckless neglect or mistreatment” which: may be committed by both organisations and individuals; applies where the individual or organisation wilfully neglects or ill-treats someone in a way that causes serious harm or death; and creates penalties for the offence which are equivalent to those under section 44 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.