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Legal system distorts reality by focusing on a single error in untoward incidents, conference hears

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h1993 (Published 14 April 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1993
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1The BMJ

“You’re only ever one error away from a manslaughter prosecution,” the consultant surgeon Kenneth Woodburn told doctors at a meeting on medical manslaughter last week. “So often, adverse events in the NHS occur when people are trying to go a little bit further.”

Woodburn, a consultant vascular surgeon with Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, was speaking about the “surreal experience” of his own prosecution for gross negligence manslaughter in 2001, which ended when the jury at Exeter Crown Court took less than an hour to acquit him.

“I was working with a team I’d never worked with before. It was an extra list to achieve waiting list targets forced on me by managers, and it was an extra case added to that list.”

The meeting in central London …

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