Coroners are not seeking independent medical advice and relying instead on NHS trusts ‘trying to protect their colleagues’, MPs have been told.
The “problematic” trend among some coroners services has meant that some inquests testimony from NHS staff from where a person died in their care at “face value.”
Lisa O’Dwyer from Action against Medical Accidents told the Justice Select Committee yesterday: “We certainly see other coroners who feel that they can rely on evidence which is given by the trust itself, which is under investigation, and that I think, raises issues of conflict on occasions.”
“I think it perhaps goes to the issue of training that not all coroner’s appreciate the importance that an independent impartial medical expert witness brings to bear.”
Ms O’Dwyer told MPs that sometimes other staff members from NHS trusts who weren’t involved with their care, but that these people may be ‘protecting colleagues’ rather than getting justice for grieving families.
“You have to recognize that those people are working in teams very often. They’re not independent, and they’re not impartial,” she said.
“They may well feel the need to protect a colleague, or there may be other pressures put to bear on the way in which they give their evidence that it’s not appropriate to circumstances.”
NHS trusts often have legal representation at coroner’s inquests while bereaved families often do not, causing concerns that all of the facts surrounding a person’s death may not be fully explored.
When asked if she thought the coroner’s ability to find out how a person died was hindered by only one party getting legal representation, Ms O’Dwyer said: “almost certainly.”
“When we take a look at [cases], we go through the medical records, we realize that actually what’s required is for a number of witnesses to be called or sometimes for independent expert evidence as well.
I can think of a number of cases where we have gone from a half day inquest to a three day or an in some cases even longer than that.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson, said: “Coroners are independent judicial office holders and it is for them to decide how to conduct their investigations.”