I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, and I agree that this issue of accountability and blame applies equally to all professionals across the health service. Everyone makes mistakes; I was reading online the incident report for the serious investigation done into this young boy’s death and I noticed that, although no doubt all care and attention had been paid to ensuring that personal information was redacted, the child’s initials appeared in at least one place where someone had forgotten to do that. That is a sign that none of us is ever infallible.
Sanctioning doctors for honest mistakes also runs the risk of discouraging people from joining the profession. At a time when the Government are looking to increase the number of people entering medical careers, through the creation of more places at universities and the establishment of new medical schools, the perception that an honest mistake made later in someone’s medical career could end up with their being struck off the register, or even behind bars, risks alienating just the type of young, forward-thinking, ambitious students whom the NHS needs to pursue a career in medicine. It is a testament to the youth of today that medicine still continues to attract the brightest and the best. However, by the same token, these straight-A students have other, more lucrative career paths open to them, and those will become all the more attractive when the risks inherent in a medical career become too high.
This culture of fear not only risks discouraging people from joining the profession, but drives away highly skilled doctors already working in the NHS. As an NHS doctor, one is already expected to work in very challenging conditions, working long hours in an incredibly high-pressure environment. Again, if a perception develops among doctors that they may be treated as a criminal even if when working to the best of their ability, it will quite simply drive doctors away. The world-renowned medical schools we have here in the UK mean that British doctors are in high demand, and they may take their skills to the private sector or further afield to less litigious health services.
The Government recognise these problems and have commissioned an urgent review to look at the threshold for what constitutes gross negligence. This will report by the end of April. I understand that the GMC has also commissioned its own review, although it is not expected to report until the end of the year. Will the Minister tell the House how the Government will act in the meantime to reassure doctors, especially those in high-risk specialties such as paediatrics and obstetrics, that they will not be unduly punished for mistakes?
Overall, it is important that the Government act swiftly on the findings of this report, and consider carefully the impact of the threshold on both the recruitment and retention of medical staff, and safety and improvements to patient care. Doctors want to make people better—it drives all they do. We must stand with them and for them, for all our futures will depend on it.