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Reserve manslaughter investigations ‘for the worst cases’, says MDU

Coroners, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service should be given clearer guidance to avoid putting doctors through needless gross negligence manslaughter investigations.

This is the key recommendation in the Medical Defence Union’s (MDU) evidence to the Department of Health and Social Care-commissioned review into gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare.

The defence body said this comes as it has supported 34 medical members with manslaughter investigations since 2014.

Ian Barker, MDU senior solicitor, said: ‘There should be far fewer investigations and prosecutions of healthcare practitioners for GNM. It should be about identifying and prosecuting only those cases that are the medical equivalent of deliberately driving down the motorway on the wrong side.

‘Coroners are currently responsible for passing most cases to the police for investigation and they should get greater support and clearer guidance about the law. There should be a far more robust referral process, to help to achieve greater consistency and clarity and ensure only appropriate cases are investigated.’

He added that the MDU is ‘not aware of a case where a doctor has been successfully prosecuted for the similar offence of culpable homicide’ in Scotland.

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He said: ‘We believe the same approach should apply in England and that investigation and prosecution of healthcare practitioners should be reserved for only the worst cases.’

The MDU also recommends that NHS Improvement should review guidance on dealing with and learning from sudden unexpected deaths, to ensure it states healthcare staff must be supported and treated fairly and that NHS bodies should not make any assumptions about blame

The MDU also wants a national police unit to be set up to investigate gross negligence manslaughter.

It comes as the GMC’s evidence to the DHSC review said that doctors’ reflections are ‘so fundamental to their professionalism’ that UK and devolved governments should consider providing legal protection.

Meanwhile, the Medical Protection Society (MPS) called in its evidence for GMC to lose uts right to appeal fitness-to-practise rulings.