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NHS staff will face stiffer sanctions for patient mistreatment

New law introduces new offences outlawing "ill-treatment or wilful neglect" by health and social workers.

12 June 2014

The lawyer for 150 victims of abuse and neglect at Stafford hospital has welcomed the announcement that NHS staff will face stiffer penalties, including the risk of going to prison if they mistreat patients through a new criminal offence of "wilful neglect".
The new offence outlined in a government amendment to the criminal justice and courts bill, will be punishable by up to five years in prison and £5,000 fines.
It is intended to punish anyone who mistreats someone deliberately or with a "couldn't care less" attitude.
The move was recommended by an advisory group, chaired by patient safety expert Don Berwick that was commissioned by the Department of Health last year after Robert Francis QC's landmark report into the Mid Staffordshire hospital care scandal.
The group recommended that the new law should be "an offence of last resort, used only in the most extreme cases”.
It will introduce separate new offences outlawing "ill-treatment or wilful neglect" by individuals providing health or social care and also by organisations.
It is intended to close a loophole whereby at present only those abusing or neglecting patients in as in mental health institutions, where the person lacks mental capacity, can be charged.
Emma Jones from the human rights team at Leigh Day, said:
“We welcome this new offence and hope that it does meet its purpose, preventing that minority of staff who would abuse or neglect their patients from offending.
“I am surprised it has taken so long to become a reality. There is no doubt in my mind that some of the cases we handled at Stafford Hospital would have resulted in investigations, with possible jail sentences for the perpetrators had it been in force at that time.
A Department for Health spokesman said:
"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, should never be tolerated in any healthcare system", he added.

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