Government Announces New Sentences For NHS Staff Who Abuse Patients

Crackdown On Patient Abusers Unveiled By Ministers


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

New laws designed to protect NHS patients against neglect and abuse by staff have been announced by the government.

Legislation is planned in the form of amendments tabled by ministers to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.

These will be designed to focus on the conduct of staff - rather than the consequences - and will apply not just to the NHS in England and Wales, but also to private healthcare and social care.

Such powers could lead to individuals being jailed for up to five years, while organisations could be penalised in a way similar to corporate manslaughter. This could include fines and court-imposed publicity orders.

A Department of Health spokesperson explained that the new laws would focus not on errors, but the kind of blatant neglect detected in cases such as the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust scandal.

"It is emphatically not about punishing healthcare staff who make honest mistakes. This is about ensuring there are robust sanctions for deliberate or reckless actions, or failures to act, [which] should never be tolerated in any healthcare system," the spokesperson remarked.

The plans were devised in response to recommendations made by Robert Francis QC in his report on the Mid Staffordshire affair and are designed to deal with issues not adequately covered by the law as it presently stands.

However, head of medical services at the Medical Protection Society, Nick Clements, said the threat of criminalisation could have a "huge impact" on the work undertaken by doctors. He argued: "We believe the current regulatory, disciplinary and criminal framework is already effective at censuring unprofessional behaviour and there is no justification for new legislation."

Ministers estimate there could be up to 240 prosecutions a year and note that the new legislation closely mirrors that of section 44 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which deals with the ill-treatment of those suffering with mental health problems.

The abuse of mental patients has already led to some staff at care homes being jailed, such as three members of staff at the Hillcroft Care Home near Lancaster, who were imprisoned in January this year for bullying patients at the home.

A report on the case by Lancashire Safeguarding Adults Board also found management had not done enough to stop the deliberate abuse.

Expert Opinion
Neglect and abuse are completely unacceptable in all healthcare whether private or NHS care and these new laws look to make staff more accountable for their actions.

“The fallout from the Mid Staffordshire Public Inquiry continues to rumble on as more measures are brought in to improve patient safety. It is crucial that more is done to stamp out unnecessary abuse and neglect as we see first-hand the devastating impact it has on the victims and their families. The vast majority of our clients take legal action because they want to make a difference and help the healthcare industry to learn lessons to prevent further suffering to others.”
Julie Lewis, Partner