Understanding Hospital Inquests
Understanding Hospital Inquests
A hospital inquest can help to determine the circumstances of a person's death. If you believe that someone you know has died because of failings in the care provided to them before they died, the outcome of an inquest can play an important role in any claim for compensation based on medical negligence.
At Hospital Negligence, we are able to provide expert representation and advice for families involved in the inquest process. To find out more about how we can help you and your family today, call us on 0800 014 7481 or complete our online enquiry form, which will enable us to give you a call back.
The family of the person who has died are entitled to have legal representation at an inquest because it is the hospital, and any other doctors or healthcare professionals who have been involved in providing the care, which is under scrutiny.
What Are Hospital Inquests?
An inquest is a court hearing in front of a coroner, and sometimes also a jury, held in certain circumstances after a person has died. The inquest must establish the answers to four questions:
- Who the person was
- When and where they died
- The medical cause of their death
- How they came by their death
An inquest must be held in cases of death where:
- The death was violent or unnatural
- The person who has died was in state detention, for example if they were in prison or compulsorily detained for mental health reasons
- The cause of death is still uncertain after a post-mortem
Coroners will also often hold an inquest if somebody dies within 24 hours of being admitted to hospital or undergoing surgery, or if there is a possibility that medical care in hospital has caused or contributed to their death.
What Evidence Is Used in Hospital Inquests?
Evidence can be requested from those responsible for the patient’s care in the period leading up to their death, as well as family members and carers. Written statements may be prepared and witnesses may also be called for questioning in court.
The coroner and/or jury will consider all the evidence and will also take into account the patient’s medical records, history and the circumstances in which they died before reaching their conclusion. As the hearing is a legal process and is held in a public court, any witnesses who give evidence must do so under oath, which means that they are under a legal obligation to tell the truth.
An inquest is essentially a fact-finding exercise, and it is not the coroner’s role to apportion blame or make findings of fault or negligence. However, the coroner will often investigate the care provided and if it appears there were failures or errors and these have caused the death, the coroner may include these findings when reaching their verdict.
What Conclusions Are Reached in Hospital Inquests?
There are a number of potential conclusions that can be reached by the coroner at the conclusion of the inquest. In some cases the coroner will use one of the more traditional, “short form” conclusion, which include the following:
- Natural causes
- Open verdict - no definite cause has been determined
- Unlawful killing - an inquest cannot accuse a named person of any criminal liability and this verdict is used when a criminal investigation has been concluded by the police
The coroner is also able to make a finding that someone’s death has been caused or contributed to by neglect. In the case of a hospital inquest, this usually involves a very serious failure by healthcare professionals to provide effective basic care that could have prevented death.
In recent years, coroners have started to use longer, more detailed conclusions to summarise the circumstances in which someone died. These are called narrative conclusions and provide a more detailed explanation of the circumstances surrounding the death than the traditional short form verdicts above.
Talk to Us
The specialist solicitors at Hospital Negligence are experienced in providing advice on the inquest process and have represented numerous families. For a free, confidential and no obligation discussion about the options call our legal experts on 0800 014 7481 or fill out our enquiry form.