Should medical students learn more about medical negligence?

Recent research shows that the majority of medical students think they do not have the necessary legal knowledge and skills to challenge poor clinical practice and promote better care for patients.

The results of this study, which will be available in the Journal of Medical Ethics, suggests that the formal medical curriculum should place more emphasis on legal skills and these need to be practiced throughout clinical training.

The survey’s authors questioned a total of 1,154 medical students from all university years about their knowledge and understanding of legal rules relating to the medical profession, including those concerned with medical negligence.

The respondents agreed that a good doctor needs a sound understanding of law and in general they were confident in a range of skills. However, they were anxious about challenging deficiencies in clinical practice.

A lot of students said they understood more about legal principles relating to medical negligence than they did about the complaints procedure within the NHS. Despite the vast amount of personal injury claims detailed in the press, complaints against the NHS are much more common then medical negligence compensation cases.

Students in their first year at medical school had the same level of knowledge as final year students in certain legal areas, such as the Bolitho principle, which determines whether medical negligence has occurred.

The report concludes that structured law teaching needs to be reinforced throughout a medical professional’s career to ensure knowledge and skills do not decay.

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