Government to outlaw wilful neglect and ill-treatment of adults in social care

Staff could face jail terms of up to five years and organisations could face fines under offence, which could come into force in 2015

Wilful neglect or ill-treatment of adults in health and social care services could become criminal offences from next year, the government has announced.
In a consultation response, published yesterday, the Department of Health said it planned introduce the new offences as part of the existing Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which should come into effect in 2015.
The DH said the offences would also apply to services where children receive healthcare, including young offenders’ institutions, but not to schools, children’s homes, residential family centres and childcare services. The legislation will not apply to children’s social care.
The new measures will protect adults receiving domiciliary care but not those cared for informally, such as by a friend or family member.
The DH said it would make the legislative changes, which would apply in England and Wales, after “the bulk” of consultation respondents backed the move.
The new offences would allow the prosecution of both health and social care staff and organisations.
The DH said penalties for individual offenders would be similar to those for committing similar crimes under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which are imprisonment for up to five years and/or fines.
Penalties for organisations will be similar to those for corporate manslaughter, such as fines, and/or “naming and shaming” through publicity orders and remedial orders to require the company to address the failing that led to the offence.
The threshold for the new legislation will focus on the conduct of the person accused rather than the level of harm to the victim.
Some respondents to the consultation did not support the idea of new legislation because they felt existing legislation was adequate. However the DH said some social care workers were not covered by the regulatory systems of professional bodies, that not all offences were covered by current law and that the new offences were more severe than many existing ones.
They also feared that the proposed offences might make health and care staff less open when things go wrong and might lead to some employees being scapegoated when the failing was that of their employer to provide proper systems and training.
The DH issued the consultation after the National Advisory Group on the Safety of Patients in England, which was set up after the Mid-Staffordshire hospitals scandal, recommended that a new criminal offence of wilful neglect or ill-treatment of patients should be created.

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