Honey Rose, the Optometrist convicted of Gross Negligence Manslaughter in July 2016 following the death of Vincent Barker (read our blog), has been given a two-year suspended prison sentence and ordered to carry out 200 hours unpaid work.
Honey Rose was recently convicted when she failed to identify symptoms at the back of Vincent’s eye that ultimately led to his death. This came as a shock to the legal and medical professions alike, as rarely has a clinician been held criminally accountable for an error as opposed to a deliberate act. The fear is that patient safety will be put at risk, both because clinicians may cover up errors in order to avoid criminal prosecution, meaning lessons cannot be learned from them, or that fear of prosecution may discourage innovation and new members joining the professions.
Following the controversial conviction, lawyers have been waiting to see if Ms Rose’ sentence matches the harsh approach taken in her conviction. Whilst still a prison sentence, Ms Rose’s conviction means that she will only go to prison if she re-offends in some way. Whilst a prison sentence is certainly not something that any professional would want on their record, it is likely to be of some comfort to the medical profession at large, that an error now seems less likely to result in being locked behind bars, than it did a week ago.
But the Court’s approach is again confusing. Within a matter of weeks it has gone from making a bold statement that the medical profession was at risk of criminal prosecution when making a genuine, albeit catastrophic, mistake, to then softening the blow by ordering a relatively minor sentence for a crime that can attract life imprisonment. Is Ms Rose’ sentencing an attempt to alleviate the anxiety of the profession or representative of what the Court feels genuinely is representative of the crime?
Ms Rose is reported to be appealing the conviction, so attention will now turn to whether or not a higher court upholds the conviction and sentencing handed down at Ipswich Crown Court. She is also to appear before a fitness to practice tribunal at the General Optical Council, who will decide her professional fate.
With reports of other clinicians facing criminal charges for gross negligence manslaughter, we will have to wait and see if a uniform approach to prosecution and sentencing is being applied across the country, or if we are now treading a minefield of haphazard convictions against a profession which to date has been resistant to admitting errors when facing civil claims for compensation.