To disclose or not disclose? What to do when faced with an inquest

Disclosure following patient deaths has become a ‘hot topic’ in recent times and particularly since the events in Mid Staffordshire and Morecambe Bay. There are more inquest hearings for health and care providers than ever before. Commissioners and regulators are being drawn into inquests where this was previously not the case. Proper preparation is vital.

Traditionally, coroners requested statements and reports from care providers and sometimes the notes, records and investigation reports as well. In fact, the power of the coroner was very limited. While, as a matter of good practice, care providers almost certainly complied with this request (as a matter of public policy), the actual and legal obligations were, at best, obscure.

The landscape has now changed so much in the last few months that not disclosing anything requested by a coroner is now untenable — irrespective of the ‘correct’ legal position. Indeed, perhaps we should be considering a regime of ‘voluntary disclosure’ to coroners more akin to preparing lists of documents in a civil trial or disclosure in criminal proceedings? …

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