Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to launch a “rapid review” into the use of gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare.
The news comes after an outcry over the medical regulator’s handling of the case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, who was found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter in 2015 over the death of six-year-old Jack Adcock, after he developed sepsis in 2011.
A tribunal decided that she should remain on the medical register despite the conviction.
But last month the General Medical Council (GMC) succeeded in getting Dr Bawa-Garba erased from the medical register after taking the case to the High Court.
However, many doctors have reacted angrily to the GMC’s measures.
They are concerned that many of the issues raised by the case – such as dangerous levels of understaffing, failure of IT systems, and staff being forced to work in inappropriate conditions – have been ignored.
Mr Hunt told the House of Commons the former president of the Royal College of Surgeons, Sir Norman Williams, would lead the review.
The review will consider “clarity” between gross negligence manslaughter and “ordinary human error in medical practice”, he said.
The Health and Social Care Secretary said: “As a government minister I cannot comment on a court ruling but it is fair to say that the recent Dr Bawa-Garba case has caused huge concern.
“Working with senior lawyers, Sir Norman will review how we ensure the vital role of reflective learning, openness and transparency is protected so that mistakes are learned from and not covered up, how we ensure there is clarity about where the line is drawn between gross negligence manslaughter and ordinary human error in medical practice so that doctors and other health professionals know where they stand with respect to criminal liability or professional misconduct and any lessons that need to be learned by the General Medical Council and other professional regulators.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said the review, which will report in the Spring, will form part of Mr Hunt’s wider drive to make the NHS the world’s largest learning organisation.
Mr Hunt later added: “The only way we can reduce mistakes in the NHS is to learn from every single one, and the tragic case of Dr Bawa-Garba raises many important questions about how the health system supports staff to be open and transparent when things go wrong.
“Today I’ve launched a wide-ranging review to look at the issues raised by this case: nothing matters more than patient safety, and we need to restore doctors’ confidence to speak out on behalf of their patients.”
Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, welcomed the move, saying: “Doctors are working in extremely challenging conditions, and we recognise that any doctor can make a mistake, particularly when working under pressure.
“We know that we cannot immediately resolve all of the profession’s concerns, but we are determined to do everything possible to bring positive improvements out of this issue.
“We look forward to participating in the Government’s review and will ensure that the outputs from Sir Norman Williams’ work feed into our own wider four-country review.”