Patient Safety, Litigation, and Gross Negligence Manslaughter

An all-day meeting was held at the Royal Society of Medicine on Friday 21st April entitled “Patient Safety, Litigation, and Gross Negligence Manslaughter”

The meeting commenced with a double act entitled “The Tsunami of Litigation: Why Doctors Get Sued”. Cousins James Badenoch QC and David Badenoch FRCS discussed the issue of the £1 billion per annum cost of litigation against the NHS.

This was followed by “My journey through a gross negligence manslaughter (GNM) prosecution” by Ken Woodburn FRCS, who related his own prosecution for GNM following a mishap in the operating theatre. Although Ken was acquitted, the emotional trauma to him and to his family was most eloquently illustrated.

To watch the video of Ken Woodburn’s interview please click here 

This was followed by a presentation by Mr David Sellu FRCS entitle “Mistake or Manslaughter?”. David, whose prosecution for GNM was quashed last November, described his trial conviction and experience of imprisonment in Bellmarsh, high security prison. His talk was followed by a standing ovation.

After that, Dr Jenny Vaughan gave a presentation entitled “Criminalisation of healthcare – does it improve patient safety?” Jenny argued that high profile prosecutions were likely to promote the development of defensive medicine and prevent the profession learning from their mistakes.

To watch the video of Jenny Vaughan’s interview please click here 

To finish the session Nick Vamos from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) gave a talk entitled “The decision to prosecute” –  in which he argued that the CPS always considered prosecutions against medical professionals most carefully, and very seldom proceeds.

To watch the video of Nick Vamos’ interview please click here

After coffee Ian Barker from the Medical Defence Union (MDU) give a talk entitled “Standing up to Scrutiny: the Media, the Public, the Police and the CPS” – in which he described the difficulties a clinician may face after a fatality at work if they are arrested and subjected to detailed questioning in a police station.

This was followed by “The Expert Medical Witness – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” by Peter McDonald FRCS who described the decidedly mixed quality of so-called ”expert” medical witnesses who may not always be totally impartial.

Dr David Nicholl then talked about ”Black Box Thinking” and this was followed by lawyer Oliver Quick and Prof Esmail Aneez who discussed “Black and Ethnic Minority (BEM) Issues”. BEM doctors do seem to be disproportionately investigated and prosecuted for GNM, and are more likely to be convicted. 

Anna Rowland, Assistant Director of Policy, Business Transformation and Safeguarding at the General Medical Council (GMC) then gave a talk entitled: “Doctors reported to the GMC – who, why and what happens”. She also tried to reassure us that the system was fair and impartial.

To watch the video of Anna Rowland’s interview please click here

After lunch Christopher Smallwood, until recently Chairman of St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust, discussed “Pressures building from an under-resourced health service” and called for an injection of cash by an insurance based system with a safety net for the poorer segment of society.

Kevin Stewart, Medical Advisor to Keith Conradi described “The Role of the new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB)” and its role in improving patient safety.

Professor Robin Ferner then reviewed “Medication errors” and how they can be avoided. Tony Giddings discussed “Why the best surgeons make the worst mistakes” which led nicely into a discussion from me about “Avoiding the pitfalls”. Finally, Sir Robert Francis QC discussed “Safety and sanction: what do patients want?” and mentioned that, among other things, doctors in the NHS are subject to regulation of their activities, while managers are essentially unregulated.

For further access to video interviews from previous RSM meetings click here

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