Nurses should be able to be charged with a new criminal offence of “willful neglect”, ethics specialists writing in the BMJ’s Journal of Medical Ethics have said.
The team of legal academics, from Manchester University’s Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, said nurses, doctors and managers should be able to face the criminal charges if patients are mistreated even if no deaths occur and no serious harm results.
Writing near the first anniversary of the Francis report into events at Mid Staffs hospital, the ethics team said nurses and other healthcare staff were only normally charged with an offence if a patient died as a result of their actions.
Staff can currently be charged with willful neglect in the care of mentally ill patients, or children, but the team argues this should apply for all patients.
They say that creating this new criminal offence would ensure that healthcare professionals “could be held to account for the sort of appalling failures in care revealed in the Francis report.
“In the event of conviction, it would send a clear societal message to those with managerial and professional responsibility within the NHS that this sort of conduct is not acceptable, and indeed undermines the very basis of the social contract on which the NHS was originally founded,” they say.