Doctors who cause death through gross negligence may well face criminal proceedings. A doctor charged with a criminal offence will need to carefully assess whether to make admissions any admissions or deny the alleged offence. The offence of causing death by way of gross negligence carries with it the potential for a significant custodial sentence. The more protracted the period over which the grossly negligent acts and omissions occurred the greater the likelihood of a significant sentence.
Criminal convictions for gross negligence manslaughter have more recently led to a significant loss of confidence by doctors in the criminal justice system and in the regulation of medical practitioners more generally. Below are a few cases to illustrate the difficulties that clinicians have faced in recent years.
For more information on the ‘defences’ to allegations of gross negligence manslaughter, call Doctors Defence Service on 0800 10 88 739 in strict confidence.
See our case studies below:-
Dr Sudhanshu Garg – Two Years Imprisonment for Admitted Gross Negligence Manslaughter of Patient
In a recent appeal case, in which a consultant of urology admitted causing death through gross negligence, the doctor appealed a custodial sentence of two years – imposed by a crown court judge. The appeal was heard in the Court of Appeal. The sentence of two years imprisonment was upheld.
The doctor had made a number of errors in failing to check that certain aspects of care had been undertaken and failing to deliver appropriate care. As well as having made clinical errors, the consultant doctor also sought to cover up his shortcomings by tampering with the clinical records.
The appeal court observed that the doctor:
“took steps to conceal his neglect, by falsifying medical records and clinical notes by altering them, and substituting pages within them to conceal his inactivity. In particular the fluid balance charts were altered in an attempt to conceal the fact that her (the patients) intake of fluid significantly exceeded the output. This was directly related to the fact that the appellant appreciated that one of the contributory factors leading to death had been fluid overload. What is more the observation charts were altered by the insertion of a higher blood pressure reading so as to conceal the evidence that the patient was in fact suffering from low blood pressure, which in itself would have been an indication of sepsis. Moreover the effect of some of his own entries on the records was to conceal the fact that the patient was not responding to anti-bIOTics, and to attempt and convey the impression that the appellant had been chasing up the absence of any ultra-sound scan. As the judge put it, the appellant was trying to present a false picture suggestive of an improvement in her condition while she was in hospital over the weekend, whereas her condition was deteriorating, and a false report was provided to the panel at the hospital dealing with suspected untoward incidents. ” (para 34)
The court continued:
“…he (the doctor) was in charge of the team responsible for her care, and his responsibility went far beyond mere failures of oversight and supervision of those for whose work he was responsible. (The advocate for the appellant) drew attention to the appellant’s previous good character, the destruction of his medical career, his genuine remorse, and the damaging psychological impact on him, his guilty plea, and the long period between the date when he was first charged with manslaughter, and the eventual decision that he should be imprisoned. We have also considered evidence about the severe impact of the sentence on him. ” (para 46)
“With these considerations in mind we come to the starting point reached by the judge, three years imprisonment, subject to the full discount for the guilty plea. We have emphasised that so far as the medical negligence itself is concerned there will be more serious cases, and cases where the relative culpability of the defendant is less serious than it was here. The essential feature of culpability in this case is that, in relative terms, the negligence of the appellant while Lisa Quinn was a patient in hospital continued for a lengthy period. Although no express warning was given to him by anyone else about the risks to which the patient was being exposed, there were a number of different occasions when, if he had not fallen significantly below the standards of accepted practice, the dangers would have been identified, and the consequent risks averted. There is the additional aggravating feature, involving the amendment and alteration to the records by the appellant in the hope of evading responsibility for his actions. Although we recognise that this may not have been directed to the possibility of the evidence considered at the Coroner’s Inquest, and certainly not to the possibility of a criminal prosecution for gross negligence manslaughter, the documents which demonstrated that he, and indeed others for whom he was responsible, had fallen well below the necessary standard were of importance to any internal inquiry. Perhaps most important of all, these records represented what was supposed to be the true history of this patient’s stay in hospital and the circumstances which led to her death. These records should be sacrosanct. The amendments and alterations to them were designed to be a cover up. That is a serious matter of aggravation.” (para 47)
The two year sentence of imprisonment would stand. Appeal dismissed.
Doctors Defence Service advises and defends doctors facing gross negligence manslaughter criminal charges. We work with solicitors who can usually obtain legal aid. Call us on 0800 10 88 739 in confidence for more details of the criminal law legal defence services we provide to doctors.
Doctors Defence Service (DDS) assists medical doctors who are registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) in the United Kingdom (UK) and also those doctors from abroad who wish to register and practise as doctors in the UK. Doctors Defence Service also assists doctors in relation to all other legal issues arising from daily practice and operating businesses in the clinical arena. DDS represents doctors in FTP and IOP GMC proceedings, at inquests, in general civil cases, in commercial and contract law, in revalidation matters, and employment law. Doctors Defence Service can be contacted on 0800 10 88 739. We have main offices in London, Manchester, and Telford. We cover most other UK regions too.