Medical Evidence: A handbook for doctors Roger Clements, Neville Davis, Roy Palmer, Raina Patel Royal Society of Medicine Press 135 pages£17. 50
There was a time when sixthformers chose between law and medicine as though the two were connected in some way. This book proves the link.
It was written by a gaggle of doctors who probably dressed up in barristers' gowns doing John Cleese impressions while still at medical school. They include the governor of the Expert Witness Institute, who suggests we drop our stethoscopes and metaphorically don the curly white wig.
Apparently, there is a shortage of expert witnesses and he wants us to rally to the call to the bench. He cites overwork as a contributory factor in the precipitous rise of medical litigation, so a vicious but lucrative circle will soon be established where we are increasingly sued for workload-related negligence from attending court as an expert witness. Eventually, we will all be able to act as expert witnesses against ourselves.
Easy money and no need for invoices either.
Tantalising prospects of moonlighting apart, this book scared the pants off me, not least because it was frighteningly good enough only 12 pages in for me to check my indemnity cover .
Broken down into seven sections, it deals with every aspect of finding yourself in a small box avec Gideon. After laying down the general principles of court appearance - 'You will have an unhappy time if you dissemble or are discovered to be untruthful' - they get stuck into the nappy liner stuff, 'The Doctor as the Defendant'. The section headed 'Genital Mutilation' thankfully turned out not to be a potential punishment for aberrant GPs but rather an example of finding yourself on the wrong side of the law. Just to cheer you up, they point out that doctors are not only professionally accountable to the criminal and civil courts but also their employers, royal colleges and the General Medical Council. So even General Motors gets a chance to put the boot in.
Giving medical evidence requires a strict code of conduct according to the authors: 'Be modest, succinct and intelligible, 'which may explain why so few of the BMA upper echelon are expert witnesses. While teaching some of us to suck eggs this book is a marvellous repository of information and good advice for any doctor preparing themselves for a court appearance for whatever reason. There is even a handy glossary of legal terms and acronyms. CPR, for instance, refers to civil procedure rules laid down in 1999 to regulate procedure in civil courts and not cardio pulmonary resuscitation, although after cross-examination by these guys you might need more than a whiff of smelling salts to bring you round. They do not call it 'cross' for nothing.
At£17. 50 this handbook for doctors is not a cheap buy. It could, however, save you more than money, provide some remuneration as an expert witness to help pay your exorbitant medical defence fees and allow you to strut your funny walk while muttering 'M'lud is a pud'.
Dr Ian Banks Co. Down GP and chair, Men's Health Forum.