Health Care Inquests – FAQs
While very unfortunate, deaths in care do occur. In these instances, it is not uncommon for an inquest into the death to be called for, which can offer you and your family some closure as to how the death of a loved one occurred while in care.
Alison Hills, Medical Negligence Solicitor, explains what you need to know about health care inquests.
What Is An Inquest?
An inquest is an investigation into the death of a person while they were in custody or care. The Coroners & Justice Act 2009 states that an inquest be held if the coroner suspects that the death was:
- Sudden, Violent or unnatural
- Unknown in its causation
- Happened while the deceased was in custody or state detention
A death which occurred in a hospital setting should be reported if:
- There is a question about negligence on the part of the medical professionals involved
- The person died before a diagnosis was given and the General Practitioner was unable/unwilling to certify the cause of death
- The person died following the administration of anaesthetic
It's important to realise that while inquests may sound daunting, they are not adversarial in their investigation or approach. They can offer a deeper insight into how your loved one passed away while in a healthcare institution. They can offer closure, and if necessary, guidance on the next steps to take if it comes to light the death was unnatural or down to negligence.
How Do They Work?
While they do usual take place in court rooms, it is important to understand that an inquest is not a trial, and that a juries will not usually be involved unless the death occurred in custody, or there is strong suspicion or evidence that the death was violent in nature.
Once the inquest is underway, it is the coroner's duty to conduct a fact-finding exercise to discover the following:
- Who has died
- Where they died
- When they died
- How they died
The coroner will typical ask these questions of any one deemed a 'person of interest', which in this context, typically refers to the health care professionals who came in contact with the deceased person leading up to the death.
The inquest itself is entirely public, and as such press are free to attend if they choose.
Are They Mandatory?
In some cases, witnesses will be allowed to submit their evidence before hand, meaning they will not be required to attend the inquest in person. Key witnesses however will be called to the inquest to give oral evidence.
The coroner is able to issue a summons to ensure key witnesses attend. If you are a family member of the deceased, you will be able to influence the attendance of witnesses through contact with the coroner.
How Should I Prepare For An Inquest?
If you have been called to an inquest to give evidence, it is important that you prepare correctly. As we mentioned above, while an inquest is not a trial, attending with the correct information ready at hand will make proceedings run much faster and smoother.
As a family member of the deceased, it is unlikely you will be called to give much in the way of evidence. The health care professionals will be required to comment on the care and medical records of your loved one, and may come under scrutiny if they are unable to do so.
The Findings Of Inquests
The end result of an inquest usually will see the coroner give a 'short-form' conclusion. Common conclusions usually reached at inquests are:
- Accident or misadventure
- Alcohol or drug related
- Industrial disease
- Lawful killing/ unlawful killing
- Traffic or road collision
- Natural death
In some cases a short-form conclusion will not be suitable, and the coroner will instead issue a narrative conclusion. This is often when the death had multiple factors and more depth is required in the final conclusion.
How Simpson Millar Can Help
If you have recently lost a loved one while they were in care, then you may be required to, or desire to, attend a health care inquest. The coroner will ensure that the process is thorough and fair and that all of your questions surrounding the death of your loved one are answered. The findings of an inquest may then lead on to investigations for a claim for medical negligence, and can often prove to be useful information.
If you would like to know more about how inquests work and what to expect, be sure to contact a member of our Medical Negligence team. We can talk you through the process and help you prepare accordingly.
Call today, either on our freephone number or through our enquiry form.