Hunt accepts recommendations of Williams Review

Hunt accepts recommendations of Williams Review

Jeremy Hunt has accepted the findings a review into the use of gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare, which said that criminal proceedings should apply only in extreme cases of “very poor performance”. He said staff should be able to learn from their mistakes. It comes after concerns over the case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, who was struck off after the death of a six-year-old boy.

On 6 February 2018 the Secretary of State for Health announced a rapid policy review into gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare, chaired by Professor Sir Norman Williams. The review was set up to consider the wider patient safety impact resulting from concerns among healthcare professionals that simple errors could result in prosecution for gross negligence manslaughter, even if they occur in the context of broader organisation and system failings.

In particular, there was concern that this fear had had a negative impact on healthcare professionals being open and transparent should they be involved in an untoward event, as well as on their reflective practice, both of which are vital to learning and improving patient care.

New measures which are being introduced include:

  • the investigation of every hospital death by a medical examiner or coroner
  • data on doctors’ performance will allow them to see how they compare to others to help them improve
  • the regulator - the General Medical Council - will no longer be able to appeal against the findings of doctors’ disciplinary hearings

Professor Norman Williams who conducted the review said that "a clearer understanding" of when manslaughter charges should be brought in healthcare "should lead to fewer criminal investigations". He said criminal investigation should be confined "to just those rare cases where an individual’s performance is so ’truly exceptionally bad’ that it requires a criminal sanction".

The health secretary says improving patient safety means doctors and other staff must be able to reflect openly and freely when they have made ordinary mistakes, instead of being punished for them. "When something goes tragically wrong in healthcare, the best apology to grieving families is to guarantee that no-one will experience that same heartache again," Mr Hunt said.

He continued: "I was deeply concerned about the unintended chilling effect on clinicians’ ability to learn from mistakes following recent court rulings... the actions from this authoritative review will help us promise them that the NHS will support them to learn, rather than seek to blame."

See Prof Williams report at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/williams-review-into-gross-negligence-manslaughter-in-healthcare

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