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Law for Doctors: Principles and Practicalities. Margaret Branthwaite. (Pp 84, paperback; £7.50). London: Royal Society of Medicine Press, 2000. ISBN 1 85315 465 2
Margaret Branthwaite, formerly a distinguished consultant physician at the Royal Brompton hospital, retired early from her post to train in law and is now a barrister. She is therefore uniquely well qualified to write a book explaining the law as it impinges upon medical practice for doctors. She also writes with admirable conciseness and clarity and the book is a pleasure to read.
Not many years ago most doctors regarded interaction with the law with a combination of distaste and fear, and I remember being advised by a very senior colleague to eschew contact with lawyers as far as possible—advice which I am glad I did not take. Nowadays doctors are increasingly aware of the need to have at least a passing acquaintance with the law, both in order to help their patients and to protect themselves against potential litigation for malpractice. The former consideration applies particularly in respiratory medicine where disease of occupational origin is common and patients look to their respiratory physician for advice about seeking compensation.
This book covers all the important interfaces between medicine and the law. There is a clear exposition of the legal basis for claims for damages arising from clinical practice. The criteria for a finding of negligence and the basis for the calculation of damages are explained. The legal steps involved in pursuing a claim for damages for personal injury (a term which includes occupational lung disease) are set out. The important changes to the requirements of expert witnesses introduced as the Woolf reforms last year are described.
Other areas in which the law impacts upon medicine are considered including the concept of informed consent for both adults and children. Complaints, whistle blowing, and disciplinary proceedings are discussed briefly. There is a useful explanation of the work of the Coroner's court and the doctor's role in its proceedings. Finally, there is a stimulating discussion of issues surrounding allegations of homicide and manslaughter against doctors and the potential criminal liability for end of life decisions.
I would strongly recommend this modestly priced book to all readers who are at all interested in the interface between the law and medicine, and to those who may be less interested but feel they should be better informed.—RR