We are frequently asked by members to advise about inquests involving their patients. Often we will be involved from the outset, helping with the preparation of a detailed statement for the coroner, but occasionally members need to call on our help at a later stage and we are still able to assist.
This case is an example of how we were able to help a member who called us only a few days before she was due to give evidence at an inquest.
An MDU consultant member contacted our advice line late on a Thursday afternoon about a meeting she'd had that day with her trust management and their legal team. The meeting was about three in-patients who had died whilst in the member's care. Their deaths had occurred about eighteen months previously and were spaced over a period of several months.
The cases had all been reported to the coroner, who had scheduled inquests into each patient's death, with the first due to begin on Tuesday the following week. Our member was called to attend each inquest and give evidence in person.
We opened an urgent file to assist the member and our adviser called her back. Initially the trust had been happy to support our member with all the inquests, but after the meeting earlier that day it was no longer clear that the trust could adequately represent her interests.
The difficulty had arisen because of opinions that the trust had obtained about the care of the three patients. Their two experts had criticised our member's management of the patients even though one of them was from a different specialty. These expert reports were due to be shared with the coroner and the families of the deceased patients.
The MDU adviser spoke to the trust solicitor, with the member's permission, to obtain further background information including bundles of documents for each patient's case and contact details for the coroner's officer. The trust solicitor was very helpful in providing the documents requested.
The adviser instructed a solicitor from our in house legal team to assist the member. The MDU solicitor quickly contacted the coroner to request an adjournment of the inquests, explaining that we had only just become involved. We successfully argued that our member would need to be an interested party in her own right so that she could have separate legal representation from the trust.
The coroner said that the families of the deceased patients would understandably not be in favour of delay, but the first inquest was postponed and a pre-inquest review was scheduled a few days later to discuss the way forward.
We attended the pre-inquest review on behalf of our member and made successful arguments for all three inquests to be deferred.
Within a week our legal team had instructed a barrister to represent our member at the inquests. A meeting then took place in chambers to discuss the huge volume of documents disclosed by the trust about each case and to seek our member's instructions. Our member was concerned about the trust's expert reports, as it was clear that those experts had not seen all of the relevant records.
We attended the pre-inquest review on behalf of our member and successfully argued for all three inquests to be deferred to allow us time to obtain opinions on each case by an expert from our member's specialty. Meanwhile, the trust was also seeking further expert advice on the cases.
Two months later we had another meeting with our member to discuss the opinions provided by our own expert who was supportive of her management of each patient. We forwarded these reports to the other parties, including the trust and the coroner. We were then told that the two trust experts would no longer be attending the inquests.
Our legal team helped our member prepare supplementary statements for the coroner on each case, clarifying some of the points that had arisen in the expert reports.
Because we and the member were concerned that these inquests would have a high profile locally, our press office team supported and advised her regarding possible media interest. They were also primed to check for any reporting during the hearings.
Five months after the member first contacted us, the last of the three inquests concluded. We attended each hearing with her, and our expert also gave evidence. The trust was criticised, as were other parties, but there was no criticism of our member.