The head of the Royal College of Physicians has told HSJ it backs the idea of new criminal offences for the abuse and neglect of NHS patients.

In its response to the Francis report into the scandal at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust the royal college announced plans to be more proactive in exposing poor care.

Officials from the college will look to provide protection for hospital consultants with concerns about standards in their own organisations by raising issues on their behalf directly with trust medical directors.

Doctors from the college will also offer to join education inspections by the General Medical Council to help assess the quality of medical training for junior doctors.

The RCP, which was a core participant at the public inquiry, has also backed the idea of a statutory duty of candour for NHS staff and promised to review exams for trainee doctors to include questions on patient dignity and raising concerns.

College registrar Patrick Cadigan told HSJ the RCP wanted to come up with practical steps it could take itself, adding that it accepted its share of responsibility for what happened at Mid Staffordshire.

He said: “A lot of the patients who were harmed at Mid Staffordshire were medical patients on wards where physicians were operating. Some physicians did take things up with the management but then something happened and we have to look deep into our own souls at why they didn’t think to come to the college about that.”

Dr Cadigan said it was a mistake to end the statutory inspections by royal colleges in 2005. He said: “We have a view that someone needs to go into places and talk to people and look at what’s happening. We don’t want to go back to visits but with the college’s concentration on high standards and national perspective for us to be included is the right thing to do.”

Backing the idea of fundamental standards and criminal offences for serious abuse and neglect, Dr Cadigan said: “I can foresee some circumstances where someone was so wicked that it would be subject to criminal law but it would be very rare, as clearly set out by Robert Francis, and we back him on that.”

Under its proposals the RCP said it supported the role of a chief inspector of hospitals but said it had “significant concerns” with Ofsted-style ratings which would be “meaningless for patients”.

It will also use vast amounts of data on individual trusts to create a Hospital Health Check for each hospital to help identify areas of poor care.

It has also announced the creation of a quality mark award to recognise wards that provide high quality care for older people.

The response document said: “Many of the instances of substandard care that Francis identified relate to the care of older people, often with complex needs including dementia. The RCP believes if the NHS gets care right for vulnerable older people, the most difficult group to manage, then care is likely to be improved for most other patients.”

The RCP suggests patients and families receive an early apology on complaints to avoid litigation in most clinical negligence cases and says two patients and an elected doctor should sit on the trust board with responsibility for ensuring the board is aware of concerns.

The government’s full response to the Francis report is expected to be published in October.

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