Clinicians and managers who “wilfully neglect” patients could face five years in prison or a fine, the Prime Minister has announced.
This week ministers will unveil plans for a new law covering “wilful or reckless neglect”.
The measures were recommended in Professor Don Berwick’s report, which was released following the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal.
The sanctions will be based on the Mental Health Capacity Act, which protects vulnerable people from abuse.
Cameron said: This is not about a hospital worker who makes a mistake, but specific cases where a patient has been neglected or ill-treated.
“This offence will make clear that neglect is unacceptable and those who do so will feel the full force of the law.”
Royal College of Nursing chief executive Dr Peter Carter pointed out that systems are already in place for those who wilfully neglect patients.
He said: “Remedies already exist to tackle staff who are guilty of harming patients and we would question whether a new law is actually required.
“Too often, frontline staff are trying to deliver care against a backdrop of intense pressure and woefully inadequate staffing levels. As well as the actions of individuals, it is equally important that we focus on the decisions that employers make about their staffing levels which all too often result in poor care.”
Dr Carter said that introducing legislation on safe staffing levels would be more beneficial to patients than creating criminal sanctions.
He said: “This measure would have the single biggest impact in improving care across the NHS.”
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