Ian Franklin: Doctors, manslaughter, and avoidable harm

ian_franklinThe sudden surge in prosecutions of doctors in the criminal courts when patients die is alarming. There is a growing body of opinion that the charge of gross negligence manslaughter is being used inappropriately to prosecute doctors who, in their daily lives, work in an inherently high risk environment.

It is generally accepted that deaths and complications are best discussed in a transparent, no-blame environment, such as M&M (mortality and morbidity) meetings. This allows lessons to be learned and future care to be improved in much the same way that pilots analyse aviation incidents.

This transparency and openness becomes threatened once the criminal courts become involved. All parties seek to minimise their involvement with a bad outcome case for fear of police investigation, arrest, and prison. Obfuscation and cover-ups will become the norm. This cannot be good for the wellbeing of future patients.

A landmark meeting next month will bring together experts from both the medical and legal professions to consider the wider ramifications—both for doctors and for future patient care—of the trend for the criminal courts to become involved after deaths and complications.

The meeting is scheduled for the afternoon of Friday 10 April in Holborn, central London. The provisional programme can be viewed at www.doctorsandmanslaughter.org.uk and will be updated as final speakers confirm.

Ian Franklin is a consultant vascular surgeon practising in London.

No conflict of interest to declare other than being friends with a surgeon who is serving a prison sentence for manslaughter.