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BMA calls for specialist police unit to investigate medical manslaughter

The BMA has called for a national police unit that is dedicated to investigating gross negligence manslaughter cases in healthcare.

In its evidence to the GMC’s independent review of how the charges are applied in medicine, the BMA said the specialist unit would ensure investigations are ‘processed promptly, reliably and consistently’.

This comes after junior doctor Hadiza Bawa-Garba was charged with gross negligence manslaughter (GNM) and consequently struck off the medical register by the GMC, before winning an appeal of the court decision and reinstated earlier this week.

The BMA said in its evidence that not having a specialist police unit ‘has a direct impact on the length of time the investigation takes’.

The evidence said investigations can take up to three years, during which time ‘the doctor affected is under a great deal of stress and a NHS system that is already strained may be denied the services of that particular doctor’.

I added: ‘If a national police unit is established to investigate GNM cases in healthcare, it would ameliorate the process and reduce delays.

‘The benefit would be that investigations would be processed promptly, reliably and consistently.’

The BMA previously also called for a specialist police unit in its evidence to the Government’s ‘rapid review’ of gross negligence manslaughter charges, which reported back in June.

But the Norman Williams review report said ‘the police themselves did not support this proposal, arguing that there are too few cases and that it would result in the loss of important local knowledge in investigations’.

The GMC’s review of gross negligence manslaughter charges will focus on ‘the lack of corporate manslaughter prosecutions against healthcare organisations as compared to individual healthcare professionals’.

This comes after Leicester police launched and later dropped discussions about charging University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust over the death of six-year-old Jack Adcock, which ultimately saw Dr Bawa-Garba struck off from the medical register in January.

The BMA’s evidence to the review also called for:

  • GNM cases in healthcare to be referred to the police only after consultation with the chief coroner in England and Wales to ensure that only the cases that warrant further investigation are referred.
  • The CPS to devise guidance clarifying the application of law to GNM cases in healthcare.
  • The GMC’s use of ‘the public confidence criterion’ to be reviewed to determine what members of the public would really expect in cases involving clinical error.
  • Reflections in all education and training documents, such as e-portfolios and all annual appraisals, to be legally protected.
  • Medical experts commissioned to carry out local investigations to be ‘truly independent of the healthcare organisation of the doctor being investigated’.

The GMC’s review, which is being led by Leslie Hamilton, is expected to report back at the beginning of next year.