Legal lessons learned

Paul Errington wants to see a basic legal education introduced for physios

Physiotherapy colleagues recently requested – via the Medico Legal Association Of Chartered Physiotherapists (MLACP) – that courses be delivered on various aspects of the key legal situations a physiotherapist may face, namely expert witness training, report writing and the clinicians role in the NHS complaints procedures.

The resulting courses I ran highlighted that the majority of those participating did not have a fundamental understanding of the legal definition of negligence, breach of duty and duty of care.

What’s more important was that nobody reported reading the common law on malpractice cases, or knowing what the common law was in relation to malpractice.

 Most participants also had incomplete information regarding legal definitions of breach and negligence.

This was particularly surprising, since many attending were regularly requested to write reports for solicitors, give their clinical opinions without clear instructions, attend tribunals as witnesses and supply clinical reports in relation to patients wishing to claim state benefits.

This begs the question – do physiotherapy clinicians and other qualified healthcare professions require a basic legal education?  It appears that the answer must be a resounding yes.

Clinicians are under mounting stress in our ever-increasingly litigious society to offer their clinical opinion.

But they lack guidance from their employers in doing so, with only the odd exception when it comes to offering support and training.

Legal issues have pervasively entered the clinical arena whether we like it or not and are perceived by many, if not all, as an added and unnecessary burden. A legal education would enable clinicians to advise and advocate effectively, and to promote a coordinated organisational response to individual complaints and solicitors requests.

Paul Errington is the programme education officer at the Medico Legal Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (MLACP).

Lynn Eaton

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