A cursory glance of the newspapers or a fleeting scan of the internet will give you the impression that medical negligence claims and complaints against doctors are on the increase. In this atmosphere, there is a demand for doctors to take on the role of medical expert.

This article addresses the following topics:

  • what you need to become a medical expert
  • what the role involves
  • what the MDU expects of its medical experts
  • what your duties are as a medical expert
  • your liabilities in the role.

Becoming an expert

A medical expert is a practitioner with significant experience in their chosen field who uses their expert knowledge to assist a court (or other judicial or quasi-judicial body) by giving evidence, either in written or oral form.

There are various organisations who provide assistance and training to become an expert witness. In essence you need to provide a CV which demonstrates your experience, including teaching posts, publications and lectureships. Writing medico-legal reports is a skill and these organisations can assist you with training towards report writing, understanding the legal process and attendances at Court.

What the role involves

Medical experts are commonly instructed by one of the parties in a case of alleged clinical negligence.

The role of the expert is to provide an independent expert opinion on the facts of the case on considering a bundle of documents, or following an examination of a patient.

Experts usually have to review detailed and lengthy documentation. Such information is used to formulate their opinion. Expert opinions need to be communicated in a clear and succinct manner, which is comprehensible to the Court as well as the parties involved.

One of the essential points to remember is that irrespective of who instructs the expert, their duty is to assist the body to whom they are providing their evidence - that is, a civil or criminal Court, an inquest or a tribunal. A dim view is taken of experts who are perceived to be advocating a position rather than providing an opinion.

Experts' duties

The GMC publishes guidance1 for doctors who want to act as expert witnesses. There are also legal duties which must be complied with and, if an expert is a member of a professional association, they must comply with its Code of Conduct. It is also essential that experts uphold the duty of confidentiality.

The MDU expects the experts it engages to understand their role and to comply with their legal duties as an expert.