1. tbl. 107. árg. 2021

Professional versus public attitudes towards criminal charges in healthcare – registered nurses and a random national panel compared: Dark clouds on the horizon?

Viðhorf hjúkrunarfræðinga og almenn viðhorf til ákæru vegna alvarlegra sjúklingaatvika í heilbrigðisþjónustu: Eru blikur á lofti?

Sigurbjörg Sigurgeirsdóttir1

Elísabet Benedikz2

Anna María Þórðardóttir2


1Political Science, School of Social Sciences, University of Iceland, 2Landspitali University Hospital.

Correspondence: Sigurbjörg Sigurgeirsdóttir, silla@hi.is

Key words: health care, human error, human factors, accountability, criminalisation, patient safety.


INTRODUCTION: The aim of this study is to encourage a discussion on patient safety and public responses to serious incidents in healthcare. Triggered by the first of its kind in Iceland, it addresses the question what characterizes attitudes towards criminal charges for a serious incident in healthcare.

MATERIAL AND METHODS: In this comparative study we examined whether attitudes towards culpability of healthcare professionals differed between cohorts from a random national panel and registered Icelandic nurses. Both groups were asked whether a healthcare professional should face criminal charges if causing serious harm or death due to human error, accident, neglect or intent. Answers were given on a Likert scale.

RESULTS: When asked if a healthcare professional causing serious harm or death due to human error or by accident should face criminal charges, nurses were significantly more likely to somewhat or strongly disagree, while the panel was significantly more likely to somewhat or strongly agree. The difference was inversely proportional to educational levels among the panel members. When asked whether a healthcare professional should be charged for causing serious harm or death due to neglect or intent, there was no significant difference between the groups.

CONCLUSION: The results indicate that healthcare professionals, as represented by Icelandic nurses, do not seek to avoid accountability in serious patient incidents, but implicate the importance of distinguishing between the different nature of incidents. The results show that a more informed public debate on serious health­care incidents is needed in which appropriate measures protecting patient safety as well as professional safety are ensured.

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