Editorials

Charges of corporate manslaughter in the NHS

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.332.7555.1404 (Published 15 June 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:1404
  1. Ash Samanta, consultant rheumatologist (ash.samanta@uhl-tr.nhs.uk),
  2. Jo Samanta, lecturer in law
  1. Department of Rheumatology, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Leicester Royal Infirmary, Leicester LE1 5WW
  2. De Montfort University, Leicester

    May be brought if patients die after clinical negligence

    Until now, indictments for manslaughter founded on alleged gross negligence after the death of a patient in the United Kingdom have been brought against doctors rather than hospitals and NHS trusts. A recent groundbreaking legal decision indicates that this may change. A hospital or trust as an organisation could be incriminated in a charge following the death of a patient, and corporate manslaughter, or corporate killing, may emerge as a new threat for the NHS.

    In the case in question a 31 year old man admitted to Southampton General Hospital in 2000 for a routine knee operation developed a bacterial infection which two senior house officers failed to diagnose and treat. The patient subsequently died of staphylococcal toxic shock syndrome. The doctors were convicted of gross negligence manslaughter at the Winchester Crown Court in 2003 and given suspended prison sentences. The NHS trust was prosecuted under section three of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 on an indictment of five charges. In January 2006 the trust pleaded guilty to an amended charge of failing to adequately manage and supervise the doctors.1 In giving judgment, Judge Michael Broderick said that the case would have implications for the whole NHS.1 …

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