The medico-legal environment has changed significantly during the 22 years that Charles Dewhurst has been in charge of the MDU's in-house legal team. When he established the department, the fear of most doctors was of being sued for clinical negligence. Now it is an investigation by the General Medical Council, and the possibility of their registration being suspended or erased, that is more likely to keep them awake at night.
'In the department's early days, most of our work was in dealing with clinical negligence claims, with regulatory cases being a minority,' says Charles. 'With the increased number of GMC investigations, the special expertise required to deal with them, and the importance to our members, the balance has now shifted the other way. Doctors face multiple jeopardy - clinical negligence claims, regulatory and disciplinary proceedings, inquests, and criminal investigation and prosecution - and we have developed a skillset to enable all our members' needs to be met.'
The team has therefore grown dramatically, and in the last three years alone has nearly doubled in size from 14 to 27 solicitors. Charles' strategy has been to recruit and develop a team of solicitors equipped to secure the best possible outcome for members in any of these legal processes.
Photo credit: MDU
Doctors face multiple jeopardy….and we have developed a skillset to enable all our members' needs to be met.
'I regarded it as a coming of age as a department when we started training our own solicitors,' Charles says. 'If you ask me what my proudest achievement is, it is the quality of the solicitors and the whole team whom we have recruited and trained over these years. Their ability and the success rates they have achieved in representing the MDU's members have been matched by their devotion to providing not just legal but also moral support.'
Although he will be standing down as head of department at the end of 2015, Charles will continue to work for the MDU, handling cases on behalf of doctors and dentists. 'I still set off for work each morning with a sense of anticipation of what intriguing medico-legal challenge I shall face, and there is great satisfaction in achieving the right result for a member. I know how much the legal processes worry them and they are always very appreciative of our help.'
With a little more free time on his hands, Charles will be able to pursue his other great passions - bird watching, managing youth cricket teams, skiing the off-piste areas of St Anton and Tignes, and loyally supporting Sheffield United through their trials and tribulations in the league.