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Additional resources for HSE to prosecute serious failings in health care

BY Gary Foggo
Health & Safety
BG Orange

Following the scandal of patient-safety at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, the Government has promised that the Health and Safety Executive will have appropriate resources to use its full prosecution powers in incidents where criminally negligent practices have been identified in hospitals.

This was made as an initial response to the report, by Robert Francis QC, into serious failings by trust which is believed to have resulted in hundreds of patient deaths between 2005 and 2009.

The reports highlighted that the Trust put financial control and corporate self-interest ahead of the safety of patients.  It was also identified that there was a significant “regulatory gap” between the Care Quality Commission; the primary care regulator and the Health and Safety Executive. 

The Health and Safety executive is now intending to withdraw from proactive inspections in certain sectors as they have to make 35% budget cuts by 2014/15. 

Regarding health and social care, the HSE explained: “Due to the nature of the risks, and the size, complexity and responsibilities of many organisations across the sector, there is a need for HSE to target its interventions towards collaborative working. At the same time, HSE needs to maintain front-line investigative and inspection skills to respond to significant health and safety failures across the sector.”

Currently the Care Quality Commission only has the power to prosecute a breach of health-care regulatory standards where it has served a warning notice which has not been complied with.  The Health & Safety Executive only has the power in this particular area to prosecute for failings under the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.  

The report, however, did explain that: “For understandable reasons, given the breadth of responsibilities, its lack of specialist expertise in health-care issues, and the existence of regulators apparently better equipped to make judgements on them, the HSE has been reluctant to take a less restrictive approach to health-care cases.”  

The Health & Safety Executive is contemplating but has not yet launched any criminal proceedings against the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

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