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February 2018

Hunt launches review of medical manslaughter laws

Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced a review of medical manslaughter laws following the conviction and striking off of a junior doctor whose mistakes led to the death of a 6-year-old boy.

The review will be led by Professor Sir Norman Williams, a former president of the Royal College of Surgeons and a senior government adviser, and will report by May this year.

Mr Hunt told the Commons there needed to be clarity between medical negligence and human error, and said he was concerned that the case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba could compromise the ‘vital role of reflective learning, openness and transparency so mistakes are learned from and not covered up.’

The NMC has welcomed the review and promised to work closely with Professor Williams to ‘explore this complex area’.

Chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said: ‘Nurses and midwives do an extremely challenging job in often very difficult circumstances and mistakes can happen. While charges of gross negligence manslaughter among healthcare professionals are very rare, there must be a public discussion about how the health and care sector can ensure an open and transparent culture in which individuals and organisations can learn from their mistakes.’

The General Medical Council (GMC) is conducting its own review of how gross negligence manslaughter law applies to medical practice, after the High Court upheld its decision to strike off the doctor in this case, which provoked an outcry among doctors who said insufficient weight had been given to the circumstances of ‘NHS failings and staff shortages’.

Ms Smith said: ‘We’ll continue to work with the GMC and others to look at how gross negligence manslaughter cases are handled within the health and care sector and to ensure that healthcare professionals have the right support in place to raise concerns.’