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Is medical negligence a crime in the UK?

Medical negligence occurs when a healthcare practitioner breaches their duty of care and delivers substandard care to a patient. In some rare cases, healthcare professionals are so negligent towards their patients that it goes beyond medical negligence. This can include the intentional harm or abuse of patients that can result in long-term trauma or even death. In these instances, the behaviour of medical personnel can only be considered an attack on their patients, and criminal charges, along with compensation, can be sought.

It can be difficult to identify whether your medical negligence is a civil or criminal offence. Whether you or a loved one has experienced criminal GP negligence or hospital malpractice, we can offer you guidance based on our comprehensive knowledge of the legal system. If you’re looking for information on how to start a criminal medical negligence claim, get in touch with our legal experts here at Hugh James.

In this section of our medical negligence guide, we will cover:

What is medical negligence?

Medical negligence is a type of personal injury claim. It arises as a result of a medical professional providing inadequate care for a patient, which causes an injury or worsens a pre-existing condition. There are many forms of medical negligence including:

  • Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis
  • Incorrect treatment
  • Surgical error
  • Improper anaesthetic application
  • Prescription error
  • Negligent medical advice
  • Injuries during pregnancy or birth
  • Dental errors
  • Negligent cosmetic care

Each medical negligence case is different and they are often complicated. That’s why instructing award-winning clinical negligence lawyers to prove your medical negligence case is important. Get in touch with us today for a free consultation – we’ll be able to take you through the necessary steps to increase the chances of proving medical negligence in your case.

Is medical negligence a criminal or civil offence?

In the UK, the legal position is that healthcare practitioners can be made liable in civil law for medical negligence. This means claimants can put forward a case for compensation to recoup any physical, mental, or financial damages incurred by the patient due to negligent treatment.

If the degree of medical negligence is so severe that the medical professional’s acts are considered reckless with intent to harm the patient, then criminal charges could be brought alongside the civil claim.

When does medical negligence become criminal?

Medical negligence occurs when a healthcare practitioner breaches their duty of care by delivering substandard care to a patient.

In some rare circumstances the nature of the negligent treatment amounts to intentional harm or abuse of patients resulting in long-term trauma or even death which may be the subject of a criminal investigation.

When medical negligence crosses over that line, it is then referred to as gross medical negligence. This is considered to be a conscious disregard of the need to use reasonable care and is likely to cause grave injury or harm to patients. This can be followed by potential criminal prosecutions.

If a patient dies as a result of criminal medical negligence, then the offending practitioner could be charged with gross negligence manslaughter. This is when gross medical negligence is the likely cause of death and is punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment depending on the seriousness of the case.

It can be difficult to identify whether your medical negligence is a civil or criminal offence. Whether you or a loved one has experienced criminal GP negligence or hospital malpractice, we can offer you guidance based on our comprehensive knowledge of the legal system. If you’re looking for information on how to start a criminal medical negligence claim, get in touch with our legal experts here at Hugh James.

How to prove criminal medical negligence?

To successfully prove criminal medical negligence, there are several levels on which gross negligence must clearly be identifiable:

Breach of duty

It needs to be proven that the healthcare worker had a duty of care to the person killed or injured. It is usually straightforward to show that medical professionals had a duty of care to their patients. When safe care and treatment are not provided it is classed as a breach of duty.


It must be medically proven that the cause of death was directly related to the medical negligence experienced.


For medical negligence to be classed as criminal, the breach of duty must be considered gross. This includes deliberate negligent acts that are carried out maliciously or without regard for a patient’s wellbeing.

Absence of consent

When a patient has not given informed consent to a medical procedure or treatment, medical negligence and criminal liability can arise. Every patient has the right to be informed of the risks of any treatment, along with any reasonable alternatives.

There are instances where this requirement is waived but outside of these, a lack of consent could lead to criminal charges for battery or assault.

Risk of death

If you are seeking a gross negligence manslaughter charge, it must be proved that death was a likely outcome of the medical negligence.

When is your informed consent waived?

Every patient must give their informed consent for any treatment or surgery they undergo and be made aware of the risks. Without this, civil and criminal charges can be brought against the medical practitioners involved. However, there are some instances where your consent may be waived for your safety. This includes when the patient:

  • Is unconscious or incapacitated and in need of emergency treatment
  • Requires life-saving treatment during an operation
  • Has diminished capacity because of a mental health condition
  • Has been detained under the Mental Health Act
  • Is a public health risk due to having rabies, cholera, or TB

What are examples of criminal medical negligence?

Examples of criminal medical negligence include any voluntary, malicious action or inaction by a medical practitioner. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Misdiagnosis or incorrect medication administration
  • Surgical errors and malpractice
  • Incorrect anaesthesia administration
  • Having knowledge of a risk of injury from the outset but continuing with determination to run the risk anyway
  • Displaying indifference to an obvious risk of harm to patient health
  • Being aware of a risk of harm and intending to avoid it but there is such a high degree of negligence trying to avoid injury that it is deemed a criminal breach of care

This is not a comprehensive list and if you or a loved one has been affected by criminal negligence, don’t hesitate to contact a medical negligence solicitor to get started on your own claim.

What are the differences between civil and criminal medical negligence cases?

When it comes to medical negligence, criminal and civil claims are handled very differently. The same time limit to bring forward a claim applies to both but, in general, civil claims seek to achieve a remedy for the injured party through compensation while criminal cases seek to punish for an offence. Here are the key differences:

Civil medical negligence cases

The outcome of civil cases where one party is found liable is the awarding of compensation rather than a custodial sentence. They are also usually sought by the victim rather than the government.

According to NHS Resolution, payments for settled claims in the year 2021/22 came to a total of £2.459 billion, with an average payout estimated to be around £50,000.

Criminal medical negligence cases

Criminal cases seek conviction and punishment in the form of a custodial sentence, fine, or community service for someone found guilty. The choice of punishment is decided by the judicial court and can only be appealed by the defendant.

If you’ve been injured as a result of gross criminal medical negligence within the past two years, you’re eligible to apply for compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).

Offending medical practitioners can face both criminal and civil action for medical negligence. The CPS will prosecute a person in a criminal case, and then the wronged party may choose to bring civil action against

Can I sue for criminal medical negligence?

We try to make the process simple when making a claim for medical negligence. We will arrange a free initial consultation to discuss your case. We’ll then let you know whether or not  we believe your claim is likely to be successful.

If we consider you have a claim, we’ll begin collecting the aforementioned evidence to try to prove criminal medical negligence has occurred. This includes medical records as well as statements from you and/or witnesses close to you. All of the evidence will then be assessed by our expert solicitors and medical experts to decide if the treatment received was negligent (i.e whether the three tests mentioned earlier can be fulfilled). Following this, your injuries may need to be assessed by an expert so we can assess the extent of the impact of the negligence.

We’ll then begin collecting information and evidence about your care needs and the cost of your rehabilitation, home adaptations or future treatments that you require as a result of your injury. This will allow us to provide an accurate settlement figure for the case.

Your solicitor will then try to resolve the case outside of court, by serving a letter of claim, or letter before action. If the defendant denies negligence, or  a resolution cannot be found, there may be a need to issue court proceedings. Most clinical negligence cases do not end up in court, but if your case does reach that stage then we’ll be by your side throughout the process to ensure you’re fully prepared and as comfortable as possible.

Even if court proceedings are initiated, your case may still not go all the way to trial. Settlements can still be agreed before this and there are several stages following the issue of proceedings before trial. Whatever happens, you can count on us to fully support you throughout the process.

By your side, every step of the way

We hope our guide on criminal medical negligence has helped answer any questions you may have about whether medical negligence is a crime in the UK.

We’re a full-service firm here at Hugh James and we have over 60 years of experience providing legal advice to a wide range of clients across the UK. With a wealth of knowledge, our SRA-accredited team understands that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to criminal medical negligence cases.

If you’ve experienced criminal medical negligence and are ready to go forward with a claim, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Our solicitors will be with you every step of the way and will strive to reach a satisfactory settlement as quickly as possible. Our initial conversation comes free of charge so there’s no pressure or obligation to pursue your claim with us. We can help put your mind at ease and get you on your way to receiving the compensation you deserve.

Key contact

Ruth Powell


Ruth is a Partner and Head of our Clinical Negligence Department. She has exclusively practised in clinical negligence since qualifying in 1995 and has a wealth of experience in complex and high value clinical negligence claims.

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