GPs fear fines under the new corporate manslaughter law

Tightening of responsibility spurs practice to leave a PBC group.

Services which result in a patients' deaths could soon land the GPs who commissioned them in court.

GP understands that at least one practice has already left its practice-based commissioning (PBC) group because of concerns about its liability under new corporate manslaughter laws. The National Association of Primary Care (NAPC) has raised the issue with the DoH.

Dr James Kingsland, NAPC chairman, warned that GP organisations could be liable for huge sums not covered by their defence organisations.

He warned that the costs of a prosecution run into the millions, and that GPs would need expensive insurance to indemnify themselves against claims.

'In two or three years someone will die and we'll all be running scared,' he added.

At present manslaughter cases can only be prosecuted where personal responsibility can be shown. Large companies have thus often escaped prosecution for deaths.

But the Corporate Manslaughter Act (Corporate Homicide in Scotland), which comes into force in April, will create a broader crime under which organisations, such as partnerships, can be prosecuted for systemic failure.

Those found guilty could be faced with fines, legal costs, and an order to remedy the problems that resulted in deaths.

They could also be obliged to publicise the conviction.

Andy Firman, a lawyer with Carter Lemon Camerons, said: 'Where a death has been caused by the way in which activities have been managed or organised, there may be a risk that GPs commissioning services could be drawn in to a prosecution alongside an NHS body.'

He advised GPs to commission services through consortia, in order to limit their own practice's financial liability.

However, he added that prosecutions were most likely to focus on providers, rather than commissioners.

GPC negotiator, Dr Peter Holden, said that if commissioners were caught up in the new law, 'then the law is an ass and every health service manager has got a problem. Most people will be out of PBC faster than you can say Jack Robinson.'

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