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RCS statement on rapid policy review report into ‘Gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare’

11 Jun 2018

An independent policy review report on ‘Gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare’ has been published today. The review was led by the former RCS President, Professor Sir Norman Williams.

Commenting on the report, a spokesperson for the Royal College of Surgeons, said: 
“Our health and legal systems must protect patients from avoidable and unnecessary harm. However, they should do this while being clear about the difference between gross negligence manslaughter (GNM), basic human error in medical practice, and where the healthcare system in which the doctor is working is to blame. 
“We broadly support the review’s findings. In particular, we fully support the principle, as outlined by the review, that attention should be given to understanding systems failures following an adverse event so that organisations, rather than individuals, can be held to account when there are significant resource shortfalls.
“We also support the review’s recommendation that guidance on the legal bar for gross negligence manslaughter should be revised and clarified so that criminal investigations focus on cases where an individual’s performance is “truly exceptionally bad.”
“However, there are a number of recommendations which we feel do not go far enough.  All staff must be encouraged to reflect honestly, openly and safely, and without the fear of recrimination as part of a vital learning process. In order to reinforce this, we believe written reflections with the sole purpose of education and training should be given legally privileged status – which goes further than the review’s recommendations.
“All healthcare professionals who act as expert witnesses should be given mandatory training.  Today’s review makes no mention of ‘mandatory’ but it does recommend that training should be improved for healthcare professionals who provide an expert opinion or appear as an expert witness. It also advises that the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges (AoMRC) should lead this work, with other healthcare professional bodies and relevant parties.  We are keen to work with the AoMRC to produce guidance for healthcare professionals appearing as expert witnesses.”

Notes to editors

1. The review report can be read here

2. The Royal College of Surgeons full response to the Williams Review on 'gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare' can be read here
2. Today’s findings will also help inform a second separate review which Dame Clare Marx, past president of the Royal College of Surgeons, is chairing on behalf of the General Medical Council. Dame Clare will review how manslaughter by gross negligence is applied to medical practice across the four nations of the UK. This will identify other important learning opportunities and shed further light on how cases of GMN are initiated and investigated across the UK.
3. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care. 
4. For more information, please contact the RCS Press Office: Telephone: 020 7869 6052/6047; email:; or for out-of-hours media enquiries: 07966 486832.

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