Within the last couple of years there have been more than twenty instances of a doctor facing a Medical Practitioners Tribunal (“MPT”) hearing following a Coroner’s investigation.

The reason a doctor may face both is because the Coroner’s inquest and a MPT hearing examine different things.  A Coroner will by inquest examine the cause of death where it is unknown or happened in police custody.  It is generally said that an inquest is fact finding rather than fault finding.  Commonly a doctor will give evidence by way of witness statement, live testimony and records can be adduced.  The Coroner will not make findings on a doctor’s fitness to practice (“FTP”) and they do not have jurisdiction regarding the Register.  The inquest will limit itself to investigating the cause of death.  The MPT however will only consider a doctor’s FTP.

Following an inquest, a doctor may refer themselves to the GMC or may be referred to the GMC if FTP concerns arise from the evidence or findings made at the inquest about a doctor’s conduct, clinical care, behaviour or risks to patient safety.  The GMC will then decide whether to investigate and will assess whether FTP is impaired.  Where as a consequence of their investigation it passes their threshold test the GMC may then refer the matter for a MPT hearing.  It certainly does not follow that giving evidence to a Coroner will result in a GMC investigation.  Almost every doctor will at some point in their career give evidence to assist a Coroner, you should seek advice about doing so and have regard to GMP (Domain 4 (Openness and Legal or Disciplinary Proceedings being directly relevant, amongst other guidance).

As a doctor do bear in mind that a Coroner’s findings and evidence provided during an inquest can (in most cases) be used by the GMC and considered at any MPT hearing.  There is a risk this can produce unfairness to a doctor because a doctor, as a witness, is not a party to an inquest but may face adverse findings or criticism by a Coroner or a party which they have not had the opportunity to contest.

It is crucial therefore that if a Tribunal agrees to admit Coroner’s evidence or findings it is diligently scrutinised and a warning given about relying on it too heavily.  In some cases it may need redacting or should be excluded altogether if there is substantial missing information that was not put before the Coroner but is relevant to FTP.  A Tribunal must reach its own conclusions and it should only admit the evidence if it is “fair and relevant to the case before them”.

If you have any queries about providing evidence and have any concerns about FTP implications, please contact us for advice specific to your circumstances.  Given the solemnity of both inquests and MPT hearings it is highly advisable to seek advice if you are called upon to provide evidence.