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MedEconomics: Book Review - Healthcare professionals and the law

Dr Jeremy Phipps says the concise and easily understandable advice on clinical accountability in this book can help GPs avoid legal pitfalls.

Clinical Responsibility by clinical negligence lawyer Jane Lynch is the latest title in Radcliffe Publishing's Medico-Legal Essentials series. It covers issues of accountability and the legal process in a surprisingly readable manner.

Implications of actions
The author advises many health groups on the law and the implications of their actions, and this book is aimed at healthcare workers, giving guidance on how to avoid legal pitfalls.

It has concise chapter headings and uses non-legal language in a clear, understandable manner. The flow charts showing the legal process are simple to follow and certainly aided my knowledge.

Much of the text is based on actual legal cases, which are used to amplify and explain the decisions made, and to clarify advice on avoiding future errors.

As well as clinical negligence claims, the book looks at action by professional bodies for misconduct. And the possibility of facing both at the same time - along with investigations by the police for criminal actions and by an employer for disciplinary action - is discussed.

Investigations for misconduct by the Care Quality Commission receive surprisingly little mention despite the theoretical possibility of a complaint against a GP being simultaneously investigated by five agencies (patient's lawyers, GMC, employer, police and the commission).

Unfortunately the book's emphasis is secondary care with, for example, advice on deaths in hospital and the role of hospital employer in any action. Similarly the discussions of corporate manslaughter are unlikely to be relevant to most GPs.

Primary care is not forgotten however. There is a whole chapter on the Shipman case.

The book also covers non-medical healthcare professionals. There are chapters for midwives, allied health professionals and staff at outpatients and walk-in centres.

Delegating duties
The sections on delegating duties and prescribing may be particularly interesting to GPs. Advice about giving clear, written instructions when delegating is sensible, although I suspect few GPs will give such extensive guidance as the author suggests.

Personal accountability is a major theme. The text reiterates that excuses such as 'everyone does it' and 'my boss instructed me to do it', will not stand up in court. Similarly, it states that if doing out-of-hours work, fatigue is not an acceptable excuse for making a mistake.

Clinical Responsibility gives medico-legal advice in a straightforward way.

While GPs are unlikely to read the whole book, it is an extremely accessible resource for those preparing a seminar or tutorial on the subject - or for those wishing to improve their knowledge.

  • Dr Phipps is a GP in Lincolnshire

Reader offer
GP readers can buy Clinical Responsibility at the discounted price of £18 (usual price £22.99) plus p&p. To claim the discount, buy online at Radcliffe Publishing's website at www.radcliffe-oxford.com and enter code D941 at the checkout. Or call 01235 528820 quoting code D941. Offer ends 30 September 2009.

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