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MDU hopeful Williams' review recommendations will lead to fewer manslaughter investigations

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) said today it was hopeful the recommendations made in the Williams' review of gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare will lead to fewer needless investigations of doctors.

Responding to the review, Dr Michael Devlin, MDU head of professional standards and liaison said:

'This is an excellent and thorough report and shows the review team really listened to the many organisations like the MDU who used their experience to contribute to the review.

'Too many doctors in England are investigated and prosecuted for gross negligence manslaughter. Since 2014 the MDU has assisted just under 40 members with investigations.

'We pointed out in our evidence to the review the distress manslaughter investigations cause for doctors involved, and the fear and concern this generates more widely among healthcare practitioners. There is an urgent need to improve the speed of the process and decision-making which would benefit healthcare professionals as it would the families of the deceased. The public interest lies in identifying and prosecuting only cases that are the medical equivalent of deliberately driving down the motorway on the wrong side.

'The report recognises that a number of changes need to be made to the current system to ensure greater fairness and consistency for doctors, while ensuring families and relatives get the answers they need.'

The MDU's main recommendations, which are all reflected in today's report, were:

  • Updated guidance for coroners in relation to gross negligence manslaughter (GNM) to ensure fewer referrals of cases to the police, and a consistency of approach.
  • A joint group to set out a clear explanatory statement of the law on GNM - to reassure that only those cases which are truly exceptionally bad should be considered for prosecution.
  • Updated guidance for the police in relation to the law on GNM.
  • The creation of a 'specialist unit' for the police to pool expertise.
  • Recognition that every investigation should involve early expert opinion.
  • An understanding that individual errors very rarely arise in isolation, and that all the causal factors need to be looked at in an investigation.

Dr Devlin concluded: 'This is very welcome and we note that the Secretary of State has accepted the recommendations in full.'

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