Medical Protection launches a campaign to widen the pool of available experts by encouraging more doctors to take up expert work, while also ensuring a more cohesive and centralised approach to the training and identifying of appropriate experts.
Medical expert opinion is crucial in coronial, criminal and regulatory cases as well as in clinical negligence claims. It can determine the course of an investigation, and the standard doctors are held to. Medical input is also frequently sought in other legal arenas, including the Family Courts.
Given the importance of expert work, we believe that it is concerning that many bodies (including courts and regulators) report difficulties in finding appropriately qualified individuals to undertake it. The pool of experts isn’t as wide as it could be, as there is no central register and expert instruction often relies on word of mouth.
Two major reviews, the Williams review into gross negligence manslaughter (the ‘Williams review’) and the Independent review of gross negligence manslaughter and culpable homicide (the ‘Hamilton review’) have looked at expert witnesses valuing its importance and issuing recommendations to healthcare organisations and doctors themselves to ensure a high quality of expertise. The government has accepted the recommendations of these reviews but many have not yet been implemented.
We therefore thought that it was time to launch a campaign on this very important issue. We have identified four areas where we would like to see change:
- Facilitating and identifying appropriate expert witnesses
- Education and training of experts
- Expert witness work to be a core part of a doctor’s role
- More diverse pool of doctors
Facilitating and identifying appropriate expert witnesses
The identification of appropriate witnesses has proven to be difficult for some years. Despite the attempts to establish a single register of experts, there isn’t yet one, possibly because of the difficulty of maintaining ones. We believe that NHS Trusts/Boards are best placed to act as point of contact and to identify appropriate qualified individuals that can act as experts.
Education and training of experts
The reason why perhaps there is an over reliance of a small pool of experts is the difficulty to find experts with appropriate training who are able to act as such. We therefore believe that experts should undertake relevant training and medicolegal skills should be covered s part of the postgraduate medical curriculum with case review and report writing being highlighted as core competences.
Expert witness to be a core part of doctor’s role
Often, expert work is seeing as less valued or not as a central part of being a doctor. However, both reviews mentioned above identify how crucial expertise is to the resolution of investigation and claims and therefore the narrative around the importance of medical expertise must change. We believe that expert work is important for doctors but also patients and society and as such, employers should support doctors to take on duties as an expert and recognised for taking such duties.
More diverse pool of doctors
Currently, there are several barriers to undertaking expert work (including time constraints, and a wariness of and unfamiliarity with the legal system). This means that experts are often doctors at the end of their careers. We would like to encourage more doctors to become expert witnesses by changing the narrative around expert work. We believe that healthcare professionals should put themselves forward to provide expert opinion if they have experience relevant to the area in which they are providing such an opinion. We will be looking to speak with a broad and diverse range of doctors on an ongoing basis to encourage them to undertake expert work.
The above is a summary of our campaign which includes recommendations for the GMC, AoMRC, NHS Employers and NHS England as well as doctors themselves. Everyone from regulators and employers to doctors has a part to play in the process. Our aim is to change the way medical expertise is viewed and to widen the pool of experts for the benefit of healthcare professionals, patients and society as a whole. You can read our full list of recommendations here.
If you wish to support our campaign, you can retweet the Medical Protection's tweets or write your own linking to the website for the campaign or the press release which will be available here.