England and Wales: Call for manslaughter reform to protect doctors who make ‘momentary errors’

Doctors in England and Wales face prosecution for manslaughter where they have made “momentary errors”, the Medical Protection Society (MPS) has claimed in calling for a change in the law.

The society, which helps doctors with ethical and legal problems that arise from their clinical practice, criticised the law in a response to Sir Norman Wiliams’s review of healthcare and gross negligence manslaughter laws, The Brief reports.

It called for the law in England and Wales to be brought into line with the law in Scotland, where a prosecution can only be brought if an act is proven to be intentional, reckless or grossly careless.

Rob Hendry, medical director at the society, said: “The public and medical profession would expect that extreme cases where there is intent to cause harm or a high degree of recklessness result in prosecution, and we support that.

“Most medical manslaughter cases are, however, more complex … A striking feature of the law in England and Wales is that intent, carelessness or recklessness is not required for a conviction.

“The legal bar is too low and it is hard to see who benefits: a family has lost a loved one through tragic circumstances, a doctor may lose their career and face a prison sentence, the NHS has lost a valuable doctor, and fear of personal recrimination becomes increasingly embedded across healthcare.”