New Sentencing Council guidelines may increase prison sentences for doctors

Recently there has been a significant increase in the number of prosecutions of clinicians and other healthcare workers for gross negligence manslaughter (GNM).

Unfortunately such prosecutions are likely to impede safe healthcare by discouraging honest reporting of medical errors, and although there are few prosecutions, they are very erosive of morale.

There is therefore considerable concern about the current Sentencing Council guidelines, which are out for consultation on the appropriate sentences for manslaughter. The guidelines set out criteria for culpability among which are that: 

  • The offender was in a dominant role if acting with others.
  • The offender was clearly aware of the risk of death arising from the offender’s negligent conduct.

Unfortunately these criteria will almost always apply to doctors caring for their patients if complications develop that are deemed to be the result of negligence. There is therefore serious concern that doctors convicted of GNM will now face more severe sentences.

What are your views and what is to be done?

Do add your own thoughts and comments to this blog.

Comments (4) Add yours ↓
  1. Michael Wills Lord

    The Sellu case illustrates the problems – that’s why the dialogue now opening up between the CPS and the medical profession is so important

    July 17, 2017 Reply
  2. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    Lord Michael Wills makes a good point. You only have to read the blog about the conviction, imprisonment and eventual quashing of the verdict to understand the concern that has resulted from the David Sellu case:
    Increasing the severity of the sentence for perceived gross negligence manslaughter will only increase the level of anxiety among healthcare workers and deter many from entering the profession. We are currently making these views clear to to the Crown Prosecution Service

    July 18, 2017 Reply
  3. Duncan Summerton Consultant Urological Surgeon

    Sadly another potential deterrent to those considering a medical career. Whilst it is an absolute privilege to look after our patients, the environment in which we do this is being degraded year on year and the associated stresses continue to increase. This is reflected in the competition rates to enter surgical training which are significantly down from those a decade ago.

    The NHS is facing a serious manpower crisis and this, I fear, will not help.

    July 20, 2017 Reply
  4. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    We are currently making plans for a workshop in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the autumn to see what can be done to reduce the number of prosecutions of healthcare workers for gross negligence manslaughter (GNM). Check out this blog to see how necessary this move is: Keep your fingers crossed that we can achieve this outcome.

    July 20, 2017 Reply

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