The Government wants wilful neglect to become a criminal offence in England after the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal.
Around 240 prosecutions a year alleging wilful neglect or ill-treatment of patients could soon be placed under a new criminal offence in England following the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal.
A consultation paper and impact assessment on the proposed new legislation says that individuals could face a £5,000 fine and/or up to five years in prison. Far stiffer financial penalties could be given to the organisations that employ these people, reports the Guardian.
The law aims to act as a deterrent and match penalties that already exist for those who ill-treat people without mental capacity, says the Department of Health. “This offence will also send a strong message that poor care will not be tolerated and ensure that wherever ill-treatment or wilful neglect occurs, those responsible will be held to account.”
There is an estimated £2.2m year cost to the criminal justice system however in a minority of cases defendants will be required to fund their own costs at about £400 a time.
Norman Lamb, the care and support minister has said: “Our healthcare system is the envy of the world. The NHS is full of caring and compassionate staff delivering the best care for patients. But the Francis inquiry showed that sometimes the standard of care is not good enough. This is not about punishing honest mistakes – it is about closing the gap in current laws so that this type of poor care cannot go unpunished. The proposal is part of a package of measures after Francis to ensure better protections for patients, more support for NHS staff and greater transparency and openness in the NHS.”
Peter Walsh, from the patient safety charity, Action against Medical Accidents, said: “It is important to remember that this is about wilful neglect – not mistakes or lapses. It is intolerable that people guilty of such wilful neglect can currently not be held to account. The impact assessment shows that the DoH estimates many are avoiding that. However, the main emphasis must be on supporting good quality care. An acceptance of compulsory minimum staffing levels would have helped that.”
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