Ahead of a detailed consultation on proposals to criminalise wilful negligence in the medical profession, doctors leaders warn that the reforms would lead to a "climate of fear" in the profession.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said a proposal to make the wilful neglect of patients a criminal offence alone "will not help change to a culture of care within the NHS".
Dr Paul Flynn, chair of the BMA's consultant committee, said:
Whilst we must ensure that what happened at Mid-Staffordshire Hospital is never allowed to occur again, this proposal alone will not help change to a culture of care within the NHS.
All of Professor Berwick's recommendations must be considered and the NHS must change from the top by increasing staffing levels and resources.
Following the Mid-Staffordshire patient care scandal, Professor Don Berwick was tasked with conducting a review into patient safety and recommended medical staff face prison for unacceptable treatment.
Speaking in August, Prof Berwick said, "Wilful, reckless, negligent behaviour - that deserves punishment".
A patient safety charity backing proposals to make the wilful neglect of medical patients a criminal offence said the Government must also implement a statutory Duty of Candour requiring honesty with patients when things go wrong.
Action Against Medical Accidents also suggested a "package of measures" should include protection for whistleblowers.
– Peter Walsh, chief executive of Action Against Medical Accidents
It cannot be right that any one of us can be criminally prosecuted for reckless driving or cruelty to animals, but no one is properly held to account for neglect and cruelty to our most vulnerable patients.
This new law would only punish those who have wilfully caused suffering and harm due to neglect - not those who have made genuine, honest mistakes.
The law cannot be relied upon to make people do their jobs properly, the chair of the Royal College of GPs told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. Dr Maureen Baker said the key to patient safety is ensuring that effective systems are in place.
– Dr Maureen Baker, Royal College of GPs
Doctors, nurses - we are human, human beings make mistakes. You can't change the human condition, but you can help support the humans in having systems around them that help keep them safe, caring and compassionate.
You can't rely on the law to properly regulate how people do their jobs. We need to rely on the professionalism of doctors, nurses, managers.
What we need to do is let the professionalism take more centrality so that people can flag up the way they need to work in a safe system to care for patients properly.
The general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing told BBC Radio 5 Live that there are already measures to address individual instances of neglect in the profession, and said that the Government should concentrate on improving staffing levels.
– Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing
The Government are quick to look at legally enforceable issues to do with this, I hope they're going to be as keen to ensure that there are legally enforceable staffing levels, which we've been calling for in the way that they have in Australia and some American states.
...We will not be a refuge for nurses or anyone else who is wilfully neglectful, but there are existing remedies that you can use which will address examples or instances when individuals are wilfully neglectful.
The review into patient safety and care in hospitals was led by Professor Don Berwick, a former adviser to US President Barack Obama, and he said it was needed to target the worst cases of a "couldn't care less" attitude that led to "wilful or reckless neglect or mistreatment".
The Government indicated when he published his report in August that it was likely to make the change to a criminal offence.
The NHS is full of brilliant doctors, nurses and other health workers who dedicate their lives to caring for our loved ones.
But Mid-Staffordshire hospital showed that sometimes the standard of care is not good enough. That is why we have taken a number of different steps that will improve patient care and improve how we spot bad practice.
– Prime Minister David Cameron
Never again will we allow substandard care, cruelty or neglect to go unnoticed and unpunished. This is not about a hospital worker who makes a mistake, but specific cases where a patient has been neglected or ill-treated.
This offence will make clear that neglect is unacceptable and those who do so will feel the full force of the law.
The wilful neglect of patients is to be made a criminal offence under NHS reforms being introduced in the wake of the Mid Staffs and other care scandals.
David Cameron said health workers who mistreated and abused patients would face "the full force of the law" in a package of measures to be unveiled next week.
The offence will be modelled on laws against the wilful neglect of adults under the Mental Capacity Act, punishable by fines or up to five years in prison.
A consultation on what scale of sentence should be applied to the extended law will be carried out over the next few months by the Department of Health.
A legal bid which revealed an NHS hospital trust's failings in basic day-to-day patient care has been described as "appalling" by the human rights lawyer, who took part in bringing in the legal action. Emma Jones, a lawyer with Leigh Day & Co said:
Vulnerable and elderly patients were left starving and thirsty, with drinks left out of reach, buzzers ignored and people not being taken to the toilet and instead left to sit in their own faeces by the very people meant to be caring for them.
There have been financial settlements, but what the families have always wanted all along is an apology, some have been waiting years.
An NHS hospital trust at the centre of reports on patient neglect has said in a statement that it accepted "care fell below the requisite standard" but added "significant" improvements had been made to levels of patient care.
Legal action has been taken against Worcestershire Acute Hospital Trust after claims that patients were left starving, dehydrated and left to wallow in their own excrement. The incidents are thought to have taken place between 2002 and 2011. In a statement today, it said:
The trust accepts that the care afforded to some patients, some years ago - between 2002 and 2009 - fell below the requisite standard and has apologised for the shortcomings.