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GPs face ‘punitive’ sanctions under wilful neglect proposals

GPs face ‘punitive’ punishments under new Government proposals to introduce criminal sanctions for ‘wilful neglect’, a medico-legal body has warned.

The Department of Health released a consultation document last month that plans to make ‘wilful or reckless neglect or mistreatment’ a criminal offence, after the Government dropped plans to introduce a ‘statutory duty of candour’ which would have legally obliged doctors to report failures of care or near misses

But the Medical Defence Union today released its response to the consultation, arguing that the proposals are ‘punitive’ and would heap more pressure on overworked doctors, with ‘no evidence’ that legislation is needed.

The Government proposals introduce sanctions similar to those in the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which rules that health professionals who are found to abuse or fail in a duty of care would face a police investigation and up to five years imprisonment and/or penalty fines of £5,000.

Writing for Pulse, the MDU’s Dr Michael Devlin explains the proposed changes in legislation could mean that GPs find themselves under investigation when, for example, an elderly patient declines a hospital referral but becomes increasingly frail and the patient’s family construe this as neglect.

Dr Christine Tomkins, the MDU’s chief executive, said new legislation was unnecessary as there is already enough existing regulation.

She said: ‘Doctors especially can be subject to many investigations from a single clinical incident – a complaint, claim, disciplinary inquiry and GMC complaint can follow.’

‘This is known as multiple jeopardy and adding a criminal offence to the list makes no sense. It certainly doesn’t provide any greater protection for patients.’

Dr Tomkins added that the changes would lead to an increase in the number of criminal investigations, even though few would result in prosecutions and that cases will be ‘very expensive to investigate, prosecute, and to defend.’

She adds: ‘Perhaps most worryingly of all, the introduction of yet another criminal sanction will have a punitive effect on healthcare practitioners that is entirely contrary to the culture of openness and learning from mistakes which the NHS wishes to foster.’