All doctors working for the NHS can access the Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts (CNST) when a claim is brought about from their NHS work. But having indemnity in place with a medical defence organisation (MDO) can help fill the gaps left by the NHS – and is designed to look after the interests of individual doctors.
Having an MDO on your side means access to support, advice and representation when you need it most – and which isn’t provided by NHS bodies. So if you’ve received a complaint or you need to prepare a written report or statement, we can help explain the process and assist you along the way.
Doctors can also face a number of other inquiries where they will need their own personal indemnity and support from a defence organisation.
Here’s how the MDU can help you as a student and throughout your career as a doctor.
Complaints and adverse incidents
Occasionally students can become involved in a complaint or adverse incident and it’s important to get advice early. Even with a simple matter, which the hospital will deal with and respond to, it’s always best to get your own advice when asked for comments on your involvement in a patient's care.
We can help members put together their statement and an apology (if appropriate) when responding to complaints and other adverse incidents.
Fitness to practise and disciplinary investigations
Students can face fitness to practise (FTP) investigations if their behaviour is called into question. This doesn’t only relate to their academic performance or behaviour during clinical attachments, but also their behaviour outside medical school and during social interactions.
FTP investigations are understandably stressful and very worrying for students. As a student member, you can ask us for assistance during this process, and we encourage you to do so at an early stage. We can then advise on a suitable approach to achieve the best outcome.
For students or doctors who aren’t members of a defence organisation, instructing a solicitor privately can often end up costing thousands of pounds.
Once you've qualified and you're on the medical register, doctors are subject to regulation by the General Medical Council (GMC). You need GMC registration to work as a doctor in the UK. The GMC investigates any serious concern about a doctor’s fitness to practise and can restrict, suspend or terminate a doctor’s registration. NHS indemnity will not cover the costs of defending your case with the GMC, but MDU members can come to us for advice, support and, where necessary, representation throughout the process.
Once you qualify, you can also contact us for support if you face a disciplinary investigation arising from your clinical care of patients.
Coroners' inquests and fatal accident inquiries
It’s always a difficult experience when a patient dies, particularly if this is an unexpected death. Depending on what you choose to specialise in, writing reports for and attending a coroner's inquest may be part of your role.
There are no coroners in Scotland, but a procurator fiscal conducts inquiries into some deaths, and these are called fatal accident inquiries (FAIs). Even as a student, you could be called upon to provide a report or even attend an inquest or FAI hearing as a witness.
It’s possible for a doctor in any specialty to face an inquest or FAI at some point in their career. We can provide advice over your report for the coroner or procurator fiscal, and for general support as you go through the inquest or FAI process.
Hospitals are generally supportive of their staff when the coroner or procurator fiscal investigates a patient’s death. That said, issues can surface between a doctor and the hospital, making it inappropriate for both parties to have the same legal representation. In those situations, you can seek our assistance with representation in court.
NHS indemnity won't deal with matters where the doctor is personally accountable, like a criminal investigation against a doctor.
While it’s rare for medical students, this might happen if you’ve been involved in caring for a patient who has died under unusual circumstances, or where a patient makes allegations of an inappropriate examination.
And while your hospital may be supportive, their legal department will not provide a solicitor for an interview under caution or for a criminal trial. As an MDU member, you can seek our advice and assistance when criminal allegations stem from your clinical practice. For those students or doctors who aren’t members of a defence organisation, instructing a solicitor privately can often end up costing thousands of pounds.
NHS indemnity will not cover the costs of defending your case at the GMC, but MDU members can come to us for advice, support and representation where necessary.
Support and advice when you need it
Although it isn’t common, a single clinical incident could lead to a number of different investigations mentioned above, with doctors facing the possibility of multiple jeopardy.
So even if your work is NHS indemnified for clinical negligence claims, there can be several other situations where you’ll need guidance, support and defence. That’s where we step in.
When the worst happens, members tell us they are thankful they had the MDU on their side and are grateful for the support and assistance they were offered at a time of considerable stress and anxiety. Not only that, but all our student members have a dedicated MDU liaison manager on hand to help them with questions about their membership and its benefits.
Don’t just take our word for it – here’s what one student member said:
"From the very start of medical school, students are representatives of the medical profession. From here on, the MDU provides a subtle but essential support system. Knowing I have this level of support, if need be, allows me to fully immerse myself in the clinical environment and focus on learning.
"Aside from the benefits from a legal and welfare standpoint, the MDU also provides generous financial support to the clubs and societies of our medical school, which myself and other students are extremely grateful for."
Dr Kathryn Leask
Dr Kathryn Leask
BSc (Hons) MBChB (Hons) LLB MA MRCPCH FFFLM RCPathME DMedEth
Kathryn has been a medico-legal adviser with the MDU since 2007 and is a team leader, trainer and mentor in the medical advisory department. Before joining the MDU, she worked in paediatrics gaining her MRCPCH in 2002 and did her specialty training in clinical genetics. She has an MA in Health Care Ethics and Law, a Bachelor of Law and a Professional Doctorate in Medical Ethics. She is also a fellow of the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine and has previously been an examiner and deputy chief examiner for the faculty. Kathryn is currently a member of the faculty’s training and education subcommittee and a member of the Royal College of Pathologists (medical examiner).
See more by Dr Kathryn Leask