A police officer visits your
psychiatry practice requesting a statement regarding the recent death of Ms
Park, a 31-year-old patient you had recently treated for mental health issues.
Ms Park was also being treated by her GP and had suffered an overdose
prescribed by another doctor. As one of her treating doctors, you are asked to
provide a statement to the coroner outlining your treatment and opinion.
Look before you leap
Although at the time of writing your statement
for the coroner, you did not recollect Ms Park’s drug dependency, you did not
prescribe the diazepam that caused her death. You feel that you have done
nothing wrong and don’t think it’s necessary to seek legal assistance. Like
many doctors, you may not appreciate the implications of being involved in
coronial proceedings and why it’s important to seek our assistance sooner
rather than later.
The autopsy findings
An autopsy found that
Ms Park died of diazepam toxicity.
As it turns out, the coronial brief
of evidence contained your medical records which make reference to Ms Park’s
previous drug dependency. Unfortunately, you don’t remember seeing this
material and you failed to enter this in to the software prompts to highlight
any potential interactions.
Your treatment regime may have been
different had you been conscious of Ms Park’s drug dependency when you
prescribed her benzodiazepines a month ago for anxiety.
critical of psychiatrist’s care
Due to criticism during the inquest of
the doctors’ involved in Ms Park’s care, the coroner is obliged to refer you
and the other doctors, to a regulatory body for an investigation. Your
coronial statement will now be used as evidence in the complaint against you
and by Ms Park’s family who have decided to bring civil proceedings against
you for negligence.
Protecting your interests
statement to the police is often the first step in what can turn into a complex
and lengthy coronial investigation. While a doctor’s involvement is usually
not contentious, there are a number of implications you need to be aware.
- The importance of protecting your personal and
- The matter is likely to result in a coronial
inquest and you could be called to give evidence.
- Your statement can
potentially be used against you and if concerns are raised regarding your
treatment, the coroner can refer you to the local regulatory body, AHPRA or
even the Director of Public Prosecutions.
- As a witness you may
require legal representation. This is important not only from the perspective
of needing legal advice but also in terms of advocacy.
early stages of a coronial investigation it’s difficult to anticipate whether
you will need legal assistance as you don’t know how the investigation will
develop. You may also lack some key information, for example, autopsy or
toxicology reports, medical records and statements which have been or will be
obtained by the police.
Avant can advise and
support members during the entire process by:
- relieving the
pressure by becoming the contact point for the police and the coroner’s
- ensuring you have all the available material and helping you
draft your statement to the coroner
- assisting you throughout the
- representing you at the coronial inquest
- helping you with any response that is required for a regulatory body
or civil claim.
This case illustrates
several critical lessons for doctors who may be asked by police to provide a
statement for the coroner.
From a medical stand point, it’s important
to verify information with other doctors and use software prompts and
reminders to highlight records containing crucial information such as drug
It’s hard to know in the initial stages what turn a coronial
investigation may take, so it’s also important to contact Avant
- Before you enter into detailed conservations with the
police or agree to draft a statement for the coroner. Your statement may
unwittingly result in self-incrimination and could potentially be used in other
- To ensure that you have all the relevant information
available before drafting your statement and giving evidence.
- If you
receive a summons to give evidence at a coronial inquest so that we can
represent you and protect your interests.
Visit the Avant Learning Centre for case studies, articles, factsheets,
eLearning courses, checklists and webinars, offering advice and information on
the coronial process.
If you need advice regarding a coronial
investigation, call Avant’s Medico-legal Advisory Service on 1800 128 268 or
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