Here Caren Scott, founder and Managing Director, explains the very personal story that led her to launch Inspire MediLaw – which is now one of the leading providers of medico-legal training in the UK.
Q: Tell us about your reasons for starting Inspire MediLaw.
I’ve worked in the health and legal sectors for more than 20 years but it was a traumatic family event that led to the creation of Inspire MediLaw.
Some years ago, my husband was very ill. He suffered a brain injury during his hospital stay. We believe that mistakes were made in his care and treatment.
After serious consideration, we contacted a law firm to see if we had a case for clinical negligence. We never met our lawyer, dealing with her primarily by email. She forwarded us the expert opinion on breach of duty, which was four pages long, and unsupportive of the claim. However, I could tell that the expert hadn’t read our statements or reviewed the notes thoroughly. Yet that was the end of the line for us.
It upsets me to this day that the expert didn’t address the issues, and our lawyer did not challenge the expert, despite our concerns. We still feel as though we have no answers as to what went wrong.
Now in our training at Inspire MediLaw, both lawyers and medical professionals stress the importance of the expert reading the client’s witness statement and addressing their concerns.
It’s good practice for a clinical negligence lawyer to meet their client in person. So, during the training, our clinical negligence solicitors explain that it’s vital to build a rapport with clients and talk them through the expert’s report. In our family case, the report was simply sent without comment.
What did you feel were the main issues?
It struck me that poor communication was an issue in clinical negligence cases. I wanted to encourage lawyers to relate to their clients better, particularly because clients are often vulnerable and have had difficult or traumatic experiences.
I wanted to emphasise to experts just how crucial their role is in the litigation process, and help them to discharge their duty to the best of their ability. I felt that clearer communication and expectations between lawyers and medical professionals would help them work better together.
I wanted to build a community for lawyers and clinicians, so that they could share their skills, knowledge and perspectives – improving access to justice and enhancing clinical practice.
At Inspire MediLaw, you provide training for clinicians and lawyers. Why have you chosen to offer both?
It’s really a result of my personal and professional experience in healthcare. I felt that our lawyer hadn’t understood the medical issues in our case. This made me consider how I could help lawyers get to grips with the complexities of medicine, so that they could better serve their clients.
But now I know many clinical negligence lawyers who are well versed in the medicine. It gives me hope that our experience was not the norm.
At the time of my husband’s illness, I was managing a busy private practice for neurosurgeons. All of them were regularly providing expert opinions, and I observed their varying approaches to the role.
I was struck, when looking at the medico-legal reports, that clinicians sometimes sat on the fence. Given our personal experience, I knew that this would not help the clinical negligence investigation. I believe that experienced, knowledgeable clinicians should not be afraid to give a reasoned, definitive opinion. That is what they are being paid to do, and so much of the case depends on their evidence.
Reflecting on this, it seemed obvious to offer training to help clinicians understand the legal tests they need to apply and to help lawyers to better understand the medical issues. That way, we could promote excellence across the medico-legal sector and closer working between the two professions.
What are the key themes of your medico-legal expert witness training?
Our aim is to equip and support clinicians to do medico-legal work well, because there is so much involved in getting it right.
Our expert witness training is available online and through our two-day, face-to-face conference. Both types of training have a very practical focus – with exercises and feedback to help consolidate your learning.
We explain the legal issues and teach experts how to communicate their opinions clearly – in the written report, at the meeting of experts or when giving evidence in court.
Could you tell us about the team who deliver your training?
Our training team all feel incredibly strongly about justice and the importance of having well-informed, effective experts involved in clinical negligence cases.
We are fortunate that our trainers include some of the most distinguished and nationally renowned medico-legal experts in the country. They are dealing with cases on a day-to-day basis, so they understand the issues that our delegates are facing.
It makes me proud to have such an outstanding group of professionals delivering training, giving insights and sharing their knowledge.
What are your plans for Inspire MediLaw?
It’s entirely to encourage excellence in the medico-legal sector and to encourage healthcare professionals to consider becoming expert witnesses.
There are fantastic clinicians out there who would make great experts. However, perhaps it is not on their radar or they are concerned about coming into conflict with a colleague. I would ask them to consider taking up such a role as there is a real shortage of good expert witnesses. It’s all about being able to understand the case and the law, and explaining your opinion in a reasoned, well-argued way. Here at Inspire MediLaw, we can offer support and help to those starting out and put you in touch with other experts who have been in the same position.
The role of a medico-legal expert can be very isolating and, through Inspire MediLaw, you can access a network with lots of practical support and knowledge sharing.
I want to continue to develop our supportive community of clinicians and lawyers – fostering a better understanding between the professions, and ultimately improving the outcomes for patients.