Medical Protection is calling for more doctors in active clinical practice to be encouraged and supported to provide expert opinion. We are also stressing the importance of medical experts taking into account system issues when looking at adverse events.

Medical expert opinion is often crucial when doctors are faced with an investigation, claim or complaint following an adverse event. It can determine the course of an investigation and the standards doctors are held to.  

A flawed opinion can have career implications and lead to reputational damage, as well as unnecessary distress for families.

However, the challenge of finding quality medical expert opinion is well  known by most in the medicolegal world. Given the importance of expert work, it is concerning that there are difficulties finding expert witnesses.

Through our ’Your profession needs you. Supporting doctors to become expert witnesses’ campaign, Medical Protection is making a range of policy recommendations with the aims of widening the pool of available experts with appropriate current experience, as well as to ensure that doctors providing expert opinion are adequately trained and can consider system issues.

The Challenge of finding expert witnesses

The topic of experts has received some attention in Ireland in recent months following the Duffy v The decision of the Court of Appeal and the judge in charge of the case emphasized the need for change of culture in this area.

The topic of “hired gun” or conscious bias on experts had already been explored by the Law Reform Commission in its 2016 review[2]. These reviews concluded that expert witnesses should be under a statutory duty to state the facts and assumptions on which their evidence is based. However, the Government is yet to implement these recommendations.

[1] Expert Witnesses (Ireland) | Addleshaw Goddard LLP

[2] Consolidation and reform of Aspects of the law of Evidence, Law Reform Commission

Encouraging more doctors to become experts

Medical Protection believes that there are many doctors currently practising in Ireland who are well-qualified to provide expert evidence. However, they are not choosing to put themselves forward as experts. Expert work may be viewed by many doctors as well as society as “legal” work. This may be one of the reasons why it often difficult to identify a qualified individual willing to undertake expert work who has the relevant clinical experience as well as an understanding of the legal process and their role in it.

We believe that a misconception of the role of an ‘expert’ may also lead to many doctors avoiding the work, or only considering it at the end of their careers or post-retirement. Addressing this misconception could help in widening the pool of medical experts.

[3] Former master of National Maternity Hospital criticises ‘expert shopping’ in medical negligence cases – The Irish Times

Role of Medical Protection

Medical Protection has a role to play in encouraging more doctors to become expert witnesses. We have organised, jointly with other organisations, training courses for medical experts so that doctors are appropriately trained on how to provide an independent opinion in medical negligence litigation, inquiries, personal injury court cases or other tribunals. We also have an online learning platform, as well as workshops, webinars and other resources available to members, and we will be launching two webinars in this topic in May 2023.

Read about our proposals

For full information on the policy recommendations that we are making read the policy document PDF linked below.

Promote the campaign

You can get involved by helping create awareness of the need of a wider pool of experts, by sharing your experience with colleagues if you have acted as an expert and encouraging them to take up this very important work if they wish and feel adequately trained to do so. You can also help us by sharing a link to our report on social media.