Death, inquest, aftermath – where to find support in the legal process

Published on
12 min read

Being involved in the unexpected death of a patient may be one of the most difficult professional situations you will face. You will have to deal with an event at both a personal and professional level that is likely to have caused you and your colleagues great distress and shock.

You may well have participated in an internal investigation in the immediate aftermath, and are now becoming involved as a witness at a forthcoming inquest.

Although inquests should be held as soon as possible after a death, we are dealing with some that have yet to be completed more than three years after the death. This can be a long time after the death and require you to replay events that you may well wish to put behind you. This guidance is intended to explain some aspects of the inquest process to you and give you some practical advice for giving your evidence in court. 

It is normal to have fears or concerns about giving evidence at an inquest even when there is no question about your professional actions and where no one is likely to be critical of your involvement in the events.  However sometimes the inquest process or at least the lead up to the hearing can be testing. Family members might not understand what happened. In some cases a family might react to the death by instructing lawyers. All too quickly the lines of communication break down and you might feel a spotlight is being shone on you by an unwelcome interrogator.

The inquest process is not about investigating blame or guilt but can be used sometimes as a fact finding exercise as a precursor to a medical malpractice claim for compensation. Being alert to this and identifying a need to report such circumstances to your insurers can provide you not only with medico-legal support to guide you through the process, but also advocacy services at the hearing itself if required. Many indemnity arrangements include cover for inquests though the particular triggers for the cover being available and the scope of the cover will vary from insurer to insurer. Involving your insurers early by reporting the circumstances will allow them an early opportunity to identify how best they can offer support and how involved they or their appointed lawyers, should become in the inquest process.

The team here are familiar with early involvement in events after a death. That can assist with reassurance, about what is to happen or with assistance in drafting a statement for the Coroner, or even in relation to your involvement in any internal investigations underway separate to the inquest process.

Knowing more about what is to happen at the inquest will reduce your anxiety levels, give you more confidence about your role at court, identify those on hand, like us, to assist, guide and support you and enable you to give the Coroner and the family and friends of the deceased, as full an account as possible of the events that have led to the death of their relative and loved one. 

Mills & Reeve on-line inquest support

You will find this guidance and a lot more information and guidance documents on our free on-line support page available to all health & care providers and staff. There is also a set of videos with top tips on what to do and others tell their stories of who they got through the process. All designed to make it a little bit easier for you.

There are also some free support resources available here.

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