Health professionals could be given jail terms if they are found guilty of wilful neglect, under new proposals from the government.
As of next Monday (November 25th), wilful neglect will become a criminal offence in England and Wales as party of changes to the law made in the wake of health care scandals such as that in Mid Staffordshire.
The move, which is similar to one currently operated under the Mental Capacity Act, has been criticised by doctors' groups who believe it will lead to health workings operating under a climate of fear.
It is the brainchild of Professor Don Berwick, a former health adviser to Barack Obama, who said it will help to clamp down on those that have a "couldn't care less" attitude, leading to wilful or reckless mistreatment of patients.
Prime minister David Cameron said: "We have taken a number of different steps that will improve patient care and improve how we spot bad practice.
"Never again will we allow substandard care, cruelty or neglect to go unnoticed."
Leading the criticisms of the law change is the British Medical Association (BMA). It feels that doctors and nurses could be less likely to blow the whistle on colleagues who are neglecting patients if they feel it will lead to a custodial sentence.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Dr Andrew Collier, co-chair of the BMA's junior doctors' committee, said that many failing doctors need help and support to do their jobs better rather than a threat of legal action.
"They don't need this new climate of fear. They don't need to be concerned that they may be sent to jail. What they need to do is learn from their mistakes and develop their practice," he stated.
He added that move is merely an attempt to grab headlines and will not address the real issued that the NHS faces.
Another critic is Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs, who said human make mistakes and need to have systems around them to keep them "safe, caring and compassionate."
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