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Reform: Report on NHS care calls for the creation of a new criminal offence for hospital staff

Following a review into the standards of practice at the NHS, a significant call for change has been made, reports The Telegraph.

Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a review of the NHS following the much-publicised Stafford Hospital disgrace.

Leading the review, Professor Don Berwick found significant problems with the healthcare service that demand addressing immediately.

A past advisor to US President Barak Obama, Professor Berwick is a principal figure on the matter of healthcare reform. In his review of the NHS, Professor Berwick has called for two fundamental changes. The first is the creation and implementation of a criminal offence for deliberate or neglectful harm caused to patients by individual staff members. This offence can be brought against doctors, nurses and managers alike.

The Telegraph reported that Professor Berwick called for new criminal offences of reckless or willful neglect or mistreatment of patients, which could be applied to individual doctors, nurses and other staff, and also to organisations that withhold information.

Although this implementation of a new punishment may appear to be slightly radical, Professor Berwick has assured that the criminal charge should only be used very rarely and only in extreme cases where there was no possibility for genuine error.

The second principal change the professor calls for is to do with safe staffing levels in hospitals. He has requested that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence revise the literature currently in place regarding safe staffing levels in as far as they relate to the standard of care each patient receives. Additionally, Professor Berwick has argued that each hospital ward should operate a real-time information system to guarantee these safe staffing levels and patient care.

Until the new guidelines are produced, Professor Berwick encourages hospitals to take notice of research pertaining to patient-to-staff ratios and the effect this has upon patient care.