First corporate manslaughter case against the NHS begins

Published: 14 Jan 2016

Frances Cappuccini died after giving birth by emergency Caesarean section

Frances Cappuccini died after giving birth by emergency Caesarean section

13th January 2016 saw the first ever corporate manslaughter case against an NHS body begin.

The case is being brought against Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust and surrounds the tragic avoidable death of teacher Frances Cappuccini following a caesarean, when anaesthetists failed to protect her airways following an operation and she suffered complications.

The case will be followed closely by all those with an interest in patient safety and corporate accountability when there are grossly negligent failings which cause death.

Interestingly, whilst many had hoped that the Corporate Manslaughter Act would mean that management would be held to account for negligently allowing unsafe systems and practices to put patients at risk, an individual anaesthetist is also being tried for gross negligence manslaughter.

In other words, the trust is accused of not ensuring that systems were in place to minimise risk such as ensuring the anaesthetists were appropriately qualified, supervised and supported, but the individual doctor is still being prosecuted criminally.

It may be that hopes that corporate manslaughter actions would reduce the trend of clinicians being criminalised for serious mistakes (as well as facing regulatory or disciplinary action), which many people are very uncomfortable about, are unfounded.