The role of the expert witness
The challenge of finding good quality medical expert opinion is one known by most in the medicolegal world. 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 crucial when doctors are faced with an investigation, claim or complaint following an adverse event. It can determine the course of an investigation and in the worst scenario
A flawed opinion can lead to the unnecessary loss of their career, as well as unnecessary distress for families. Given the importance of expert work, it is concerning that many bodies report difficulties finding expert witnesses.
Through our “Getting it right when things go wrong: The role of the expert witness” 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 system issues are considered when writing expert reports.
Two major reviews, the ‘Williams review' and the ‘Hamilton review', have been commissioned in recent years which have made clear recommendations on a range of issues related to the subject of expert witnesses.
Both of these reviews were commissioned following the case of Dr Bawa-Garba and the resulting concerns this raised amongst the medical community about the accountability of healthcare workers. More recently, the Final Report of the Working Group on Medical Experts in the Family Court also focused on the issue of experts in a different arena.
We fully agree with and support the recommendations of these reviews. In our policy paper we build on the recommendations of both these reviews with the goal of encouraging doctors to feel empowered to act as expert witnesses and to do so in a way that takes into account the reality of practice including system issues.
As the Williams and Hamilton reviews concluded, finding good quality expert medical opinion is challenging. It can be hard 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.
There are many well-qualified doctors who produce excellent expert opinions. However, we believe that some doctors have a misconception of what being an ‘expert’ means and this leads to many doctors avoiding the work, or only considering it at the end of their careers or post-retirement. Addressing this misconception would go some way to widening the pool of medical experts.
Medical Protection plays a role in providing training to 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.
Read about our proposals in our full policy report >
You can get involve 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.
You can also help us by advocating for the importance of system issues to be taken into account when writing expert reports, and sharing a link to our report on Twitter.
Follow the conversation on Twitter using #MedicalExpertWitness >
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