A leading UK charity has warned against scrapping the power to prosecute medics whose negligence leads to the death of patients.
Action against Medical Accidents responded after Professor David Galloway, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Glasgow, said prosecuting medics fails to address the underlying issues that may have led to the negligence.
The Crown Office decided not to prosecute obstetrician Dr Vashinavy Laxman, who could be struck off for alleged errors that led to a baby boy being being decapitated during delivery at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.
Medical staff can be charged with culpable homicide in Scotland if their actions lead to a fatality.
Professor Galloway said this means medics can find themselves prosecuted even if negligence is a result of “systemic challenges beyond their immediate control”.
He said: “We believe that there is a strong argument to be made that gross negligence manslaughter, or culpable homicide in Scotland, should not be a criminal offence within the clinical context.
“There is real merit in the argument of Sir Ian Kennedy QC, who stated that ‘medical manslaughter means you can pick someone, blame them and imagine you have solved the problem’. This is the wrong approach.
“It is with this in mind that we need to establish how best to ensure that the role of system failure in medical negligence cases is properly examined and recorded.”
He added: “We need to see real leadership within the medical community in order to re-establish a genuine blame-free culture in the NHS to protect the best interests of patients and clinicians alike.”
But Peter Walsh, chief executive of Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA), warned against excluding doctors and other medical professions from the risk of prosecution.
He said: “Culpable homicide must only apply in the most exceptional cases where there is conscious recklessness, but I would counsel against making an exception for doctors.
“There are better ways of supporting and protecting doctors who make honest mistakes and own up to them. For example by protecting them against bad employers.”
Dr Laxman is appearing before the General Medical Council’s Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service for a hearing that could last nearly a month.
It is claimed Dr Laxman proceeded with a natural delivery of a baby even though complications meant a caesarean section would have been safer.
The tribunal will consider charges that Dr Laxman “was involved in the delivery of a baby during which she failed to perform immediate delivery by caesarean section under general anaesthetic and proceed with a natural delivery, which was not clinically indicated”.
If Dr Laxman’s fitness to practise is found to be impaired, sanctions could include having her name removed from the register or suspension of up to a year.
The hearing, which got under way last week in Manchester, is expected to last until June 5.