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Medics 'should not face criminal charges over mistakes'

A top clinician argues that a 'blame-free culture' should be in place within the NHS.

Surgery: Medics can face culpable homicide charges (file pic).
Surgery: Medics can face culpable homicide charges (file pic). PA

Medical professionals should not face the risk of culpable homicide charges over medical blunders, according to a top clinician.

Professor David Galloway, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Glasgow (RCPSG), said a "genuine blame-free culture" in the NHS was in the best interest of both patients and medics.

It comes after the Crown Office ruled out criminal charges against an obstetrician, Dr Vaishnavy Laxman, who faces being struck off over alleged blunders which resulted in a baby boy being decapitated during delivery at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.

In Scotland, health professionals suspected of killing patients as a result of negligence can be prosecuted for culpable homicide - equivalent to gross negligence manslaughter in England and Wales.

Mr Galloway argued this could lead to surgeons taking the blame for "systemic challenges beyond their immediate control".

He said: "We believe that there is a strong argument to be made that gross negligence manslaughter, or culpable homicide in Scotland, should not be a criminal offence within the clinical context."

https://stv.tv/news/north/1414701-baby-decapitated-inside-mother-s-womb-during-delivery/ | default

Mr Galloway added: "There is real merit in the argument of Sir Ian Kennedy QC, who stated that 'medical manslaughter means you can pick someone, blame them and imagine you have solved the problem'. This is the wrong approach.

"It is with this in mind that we need to establish how best to ensure that the role of system failure in medical negligence cases is properly examined and recorded.

"Most of all, we need to see real leadership within the medical community in order to re-establish a genuine blame-free culture in the NHS to protect the best interests of patients and clinicians alike."

The RCPSG has now written to the Williams Review, which is probing negligence law in relation to healthcare across the UK, to say prosecutions should be based on intent to harm rather than error.

The College said: "There are certainly errant doctors who should be charged with this type of offence [manslaughter].

"What should distinguish these individuals from those who are put in an impossible situation and have made a mistake or mistakes? It is surely the intent to do harm."

It went on to say the current "trigger for a prosecution is not clearly defined" in the UK, but added that "having taken advice, the threshold for prosecution in the Scottish Jurisdiction may be higher".

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