MDU urges for clearer coroners' guidance to minimise manslaughter investigations

The MDU is advocating a number of changes for gross negligence manslaughter investigations that could be made quickly and with very little practical or financial difficulty.

These changes should result in far fewer doctors being needlessly put through a gross negligence manslaughter (GNM) investigation and include the need for more support and clearer guidance about the law of GNM for coroners.

In a written submission to Prof Sir Norman Williams' review into gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare, the MDU proposes a series of changes to address the over-investigation of doctors for GNM.

Among these, we are also advocating formation of a national police unit to investigate GNM. The police seldom deal with clinical cases, and the benefit for doctors would be that with experience should come greater speed and the knowledge to sort wheat from chaff.

Our response

Since 2014, the MDU has assisted 34 members through gross negligence manslaughter investigations. In our experience, and supported by CPS statistics, for every 10 investigations for gross negligence manslaughter there is only one or fewer prosecutions.

Urgent change is needed to address this over-investigation. As MDU senior solicitor Ian Barker states, 'the public interest lies in identifying and prosecuting only those cases that are the medical equivalent of deliberately driving down the motorway on the wrong side.'

In our submission, we highlight the need for:

  • fewer investigations and prosecutions of healthcare practitioners for gross negligence manslaughter
  • greater support and clearer guidance for coroners about the law
  • a more robust referral process for greater consistency and clarity
  • ensuring only appropriate cases are investigated.

We also recommend that:

  • NHS Improvement reviews its guidance on dealing with and learning from sudden unexpected deaths, encouraging greater support and fair treatment for healthcare staff
  • the GMC be asked to take a look at protocols for referring cases involving investigations for GNM to interim order tribunals. GNM cases invariably involve single clinical incidents, and the GMC should satisfy itself that the approach it takes to such cases is consistently proportionate and fair.

The MDU believes these changes are straightforward and easy to implement, with the potential to greatly diminish the fear and distress experienced by doctors under investigation.

We urge the government to take swift and decisive action.

Read our full submission here.

This page was correct at publication on 27/03/2018. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.