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Independents' Day

Police ask you for statement on a patient

You receive a telephone call from the police during a surgery: 'We are investigating an assault on a Mr Graham. I understand you examined him. We have his written consent. Could one of my officers see you so that she can take a statement?' Dr Peter Moore advises.

How can the doctor avoid going to court?

No doctor wants to be called to court. One way to avoid a court appearance is to write a good, uncontroversial statement. The prosecution has to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. All the defence has to do is introduce that doubt. They also have the right to see any statement made to the police.

If the doctor's statement is ambiguous or makes claims that cannot be sustained, the defence will see an opportunity to introduce doubt. The doctor will be called. To avoid this, remember doctors are independent and not on either side. However horrific the allegations, it is not the role of the doctor to 'spin' the findings to ensure justice.

If there was a bruise on the left shin you cannot add 'caused by a policeman's boot' unless you were there.

Can the registrar be certain the police

have valid consent?

The police already know he has been seen in the surgery and most forces have standard consent forms that have been approved by the force legal advisers. It seems likely Mr Graham is the victim and not the accused, but it is worth checking. If there is any doubt about the validity of the consent or any sensitive information in the records it is good practice to telephone the patient to make sure he understood what he was signing. If the consent was signed at the police station immediately after the assault the patient may not have fully understood the implications.

Some forces provide guidelines on preparing statements and these are worth reading. If an officer handwrites the statement based on a discussion with the doctor this can be acceptable but remember it is the doctor's statement with the doctor's signature.

You cannot argue in court that the officer made the statement and you would have phrased it differently. Read it carefully afterwards and only sign it if you are prepared to justify every word in court.

What should be in the statement

 · Start with a few lines about yourself ­ qualifications, experience and whether you are a member of a medical society. Even if you are only a member by subscription it still shows enthusiasm and commitment.

 · Say how you obtained consent for this statement ­ was it a police form, did you phone the patient or both?

 · Say how you became involved in the case. For example: 'I was working as a GP registrar at the New Street Surgery when I saw a man by appointment who introduced himself to me as Mr John Graham. I also had access to his medical records held on the surgery computer.'

 · Say whether you had you seen him before. If so, what condition was he in ­ calm, co-operative or ataxic and smelling of alcohol?

 · Mention any clinical findings, explaining any medical terms: 'He had a haematoptysis (coughing up blood).'

 · Describe his injuries carefully, explaining where they were, how large (with measurements), the type of injury (whether bruise, abrasion and so on) and rough age if possible. Add his explanation of each injury.

 · Be very careful interpreting injuries. Even 'compatible with' might have to be explained.

 · Add the limits of your examination: 'I did not examine him below the waist as he told me he had no further injuries.'

 · Add negative finds ­ these can be as important as positive ones.

 · Explain where you got the information for this statement ­ was it based on your contemporaneous notes?

Should you let the officer write the statement?

Writing a statement for court is a professional job that requires training. Occasionally doctors believe that, because they are more intelligent, they can write a better statement than a police officer, despite having had no training. Both assumptions could be wrong.

Key points

 · Writing a statement is a professional role that will need some training

 · A good statement could make

a court appearance


 · Remember you are independent and can only write what you have seen and recorded

 · Anything you write may have to be justified in court

 · Always check you have valid consent from the patient before making a statement

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