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Medical expert witnesses ‘should not scapegoat doctors’

Medical experts in cases involving doctors should have a mandatory duty to consider systems issues such as inadequate staffing levels to avoid them being scapegoated for wider failures, the Medical Protection Society (MPS) has said.

The MPS, which supports the the professional interests of more than 300,000 healthcare professionals around the world, says medical expert reports focus on scrutinising the actions of the individual doctor even when failings are a result of the setting in which they work.

Its report on the issue, shared with the Guardian before publication, points out that for doctors “adverse opinion can lead to loss of career or liberty”.

It references the case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba who was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter in 2015 and handed a 24-month suspended sentence for her part in the death of six-year-old Jack Adcock from sepsis. She was later struck off by the General Medical Council before the court of appeal overturned the GMC’s decision.

Dr Rob Hendry, the MPS medical director, said: “In giving an opinion on whether or not the care provided by a doctor has fallen short of a reasonable standard, it would seem fair to the doctor that the medical expert considers all relevant circumstances. Any individual performance concerns must of course be addressed, but doctors should not be scapegoats for the failings of the settings in which they work. Sadly, we see this all too often in cases against doctors …

“Many expert reports focus solely on the actions of the individual without considering the wider context. In reality, patient harm arising from medical error is rarely attributable to the actions of a single individual. Inadequate staffing levels, lack of resources, or faulty IT systems are just some issues which can contribute to adverse incidents. Doctors confront these issues every day and have little influence over them.”

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Source: The Guardian, 18 July 2022


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