NAPNAP Opposes Criminal Prosecution of Health Care Providers for Unintentional Harm

The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) supports all nurses, advanced practice registered nurses and their health care colleagues in providing high-quality, evidence-based, equitable physical and mental health care to all patients. For nearly 200 years, nurses and physicians in the United States have been researching, learning and evolving health science. Today, clinicians are highly trained, board certified and licensed to practice health care regulated by state-mandated governing boards charged with implementing evidence-based regulations, investigating claims and penalizing misconduct.

Experiencing harm as a patient while in the health care system is always tragic and never acceptable. However, the complexity of factors contributing to breaches in patient safety must be considered. Health care culture should empower health care workers to speak up for safety without fear of criminal charges. Health systems need robust process improvement strategies to adequately address potential safety failures. Society needs to be able to trust providers’ integrity and accountability to speak up to identify errors or near-miss events and seek to enhance education and processes to prevent patient harm.

Prosecuting and convicting health care providers for unintentional errors is unjust and detrimental to promoting a culture of patient safety in a health system that is already stressed. The threat of incarceration for unsuccessfully performing a procedure or administering medication is a significant deterrent to supporting and expanding the nursing workforce as nurses consider leaving the profession given the threat of criminal prosecution for any error.

Rather than criminally punishing medical errors, we should rely on well-established and highly regulated health systems to vigorously investigate unanticipated outcomes to improve health care providers’ knowledge and institutional practices for the future. We should also advocate for implementation of evidence-based policies and systems designed specifically to prevent medical errors. For the 20th year in a row, nurses were ranked the most honest and ethical profession in the U.S. with physicians coming in second. These professionals are deeply committed to their patients’ health and safety, and our society should stand by them as they perform to the best of their education and training.

April 7, 2022

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