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Doctors 'face more severe sentences' if convicted of negligent manslaughter

The Medical Defence Union has warned that proposals around sentencing guidelines could lead to doctors being given more severe sentences if convicted of gross negligence manslaughter. 

The Sentencing Council, which was set up by the Ministry of Justice to set sentencing guidelines, consulted last year on increasing the sentence for someone convicted of gross negligence manslaughter from a minimum of two years to a minimum of six years.

This would apply to doctors, who are not subject to an exemption, the MDU warns.

The MDU's response follows the controversial High Court Ruling concerning junior doctor Dr Hazida Bawa-Garba last week, who had been given a two-year suspended sentence for gross negligence manslaughter in 2015.

Ian Barker, MDU’s senior solicitor, said the threat of a longer sentence ‘will be no greater deterrent in terms of reinforcing doctors’ duties to their patients’.

He added: ‘It may, however, increase any fear or doubt they have when making difficult decisions about patients when they are in a very difficult position yet are trying to act in a patient’s best interests.

‘It seems to us a retrograde step to contemplate increasing the burden on doctors at such times, and puts at risk the necessary open environment which enables learning from error and increased patient safety.’

The House of Commons justice committee also expressed a concern over longer sentence times for gross negligence manslaughter in relation to clinical decision cases.

In their response to the consultation, the committee said the factors indicating 'high culpability', which include an awareness ‘of the risk of death arising from the offender’s negligent conduct’, could lead to ‘inappropriately long custodial sentences, especially in relation to clinical decisions taken by medical practitioners in testing circumstances, and situations where junior employees have little control in their workplace environment’.

Mr Barker’s comments come after the GMC won a High Court bid to have Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba struck off the medical register, against the decision of its own tribunal.

Dr Bawa-Garba was a registrar at the Children’s Assessment Unit at Leicester Royal Infirmary on 18 February 2011, and the most senior doctor on the shift, when a six-year-old child with sepsis died. 

Readers' comments (17)

  • The legal environment for clinicians in the NHS is becoming more toxic by the minute. Can't see anybody of of 'sane mind' wanting to join us.

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  • Oh dear, I feel sorry for the poorly supported on call F1 on ward cover, medical SpR covering wards/A&E as well as GP referrals and the GP juggling clinic and home visit requests. Whilst the best the 1st world country that is the United Kingdom can come up with is asking medical student to volunteer in hospitals and GP practices and NHS office staff to volunteer in hospital wards.

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  • Anybody who needs an urgent GP visit is sent to hospital....all admission avoidance work is...well avoided!

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  • Just been advised that there is 'no practical' statuatary limitation on claims against doctors or on legal searches against them (and as we have just learned, all information is discoverable i.e. there is no 'privilege').

    Moreover, those of esteemed age, may wish to consider, that your estate is chargeable for your wrong-doings/failings/etc and a claimant can institute a charge on it which can last for years.

    Just 'chatter' over the dinner table.

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  • Work to rule coming bring the system down.Work to contract only.

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  • Just Your Average Joe

    To avoid risk, massive rise in referrals and admissions - JUST IN CASE mentality.

    When Referral management policies refuse these referrals and someone comes to harm - can we be clear those running and commissioning these services will be brought up on manslaughter charges, not the GP who tried to refer but was refused this patient right to a specialist opinion under the NHS Charter.

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  • Vinci Ho

    Question: what will the future doctor-patient relationship become?
    The 'healing hands' must put on their most secure gauntlets before providing the remedy.
    The 'sufferer' demands zero mistake and any deviation is unforgivable .
    Should something goes seriously wrong , shackles will be applied permanently to 'a pair' of hands.
    This will be compounded by the inevitable outcome of working by scale in bigger institutions , hence , sacrificing continuity .
    Thanks to GMC , this represents the beginning of the end of the most respectable relationship in human history........

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  • So when the system lets down the patient the justice system will hang the nearest medical professional from the nearest lamppost to protect its self.The getting nearer to the end point of this process of collectivization.The system protects itself by sacrificing it servants.Next the servant revolt and or walk away(or dont come in the first place).How will this effect recruitment I wonder.

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  • How much are the BBC presenters banging on about getting? How much risk do they carry????

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  • Can anybody remember any good news?

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