Doctoring the evidence of medical malpractice

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The Independent Online

A most unusual trial is going on in the High Court at the moment. We have all become used to the spectacle of patients suing doctors for supposed incompetence and negligence, but this may be the first time that a doctor has ever sued a patient on the same grounds. We join the trial just at the moment when Dr Fellowes, the plaintiff, has first taken the stand.

Counsel: Your name is Joshua Fellowes, is it not?

Doctor: That is the name by which I am known, yes.

Counsel: Then it is your name?

Doctor: Not necessarily.

Counsel: Explain to me how the name by which you are known is not necessarily your name.

Doctor: My father was a doctor and had very bad handwriting. When he wrote my name in the registry book, he thought he was writing "Jonathan", but it looked much more like "Joshua", and that is how it was transcribed to my birth certificate. Thus, although for a while my family did call me Jonathan, my official name was Joshua and that is the one that took over.

Counsel: Do you expect me to believe that story?

Doctor: I have no expectations in the matter. I have no previous experience of your credulity.

Counsel: I see. Is it true, then, that all doctors have bad handwriting?

Doctor: Oh, yes. Mark you, you should see the handwriting of the average pharmacist. It's diabolical.

Counsel: You are Dr Fellowes?

Doctor: I am now, yes.

Counsel: What do you mean?

Doctor: I didn't use to be.

Counsel: When was that?

Doctor: Before I qualified as a doctor.

Judge: Just a moment! What is going on here, Mr Matchless? This is like a music hall routine!

Counsel: It is a battle of verbal dexterity, my Lord. In time-honoured legal tradition, I am trying to browbeat him with inane questions, and he is trying to confuse me with facetious answers.

Judge: I see. And who is winning?

Counsel: Neck and neck at the moment, m'lud.

Judge: I see. Let me know when we've got a winner. Carry on.

Counsel: Now, Dr Fellowes, you are bringing a case for medical negligence against one of your patients, are you not?

Doctor: I certainly am.

Counsel: Against a certain Mrs Wilma Armstrong?

Doctor: That is the name she goes under.

Counsel: When you say that is the name she goes under, do you mean...? Well, never mind. When did Mrs Armstrong last come to you for treatment?

Doctor: Last July.

Counsel: And what was wrong with her?

Doctor: Wrong with her? Well, since you ask, she is lazy, self-deceiving, selfish, greedy, demanding, ugly...

Counsel: Dr Fellowes! I mean, what was wrong with her, medically speaking?

Doctor: Nothing.

Counsel: Then why had she come to see you?

Doctor: Because she is lazy, self-deceiving, selfish...

Counsel: But surely, Dr Fellowes, that is not a medical condition?

Doctor: No, but it leads to a medical condition. Mrs Armstrong is one of those patients who refuse to look after themselves. She smokes, over-eats, takes no exercise, and so on, and then when the medical consequences catch up with her, she comes to me for treatment. I explain to her that her recovery lies in her own hands. She refuses to listen to me, and expects to be cured by pills. She cannot be cured by pills, only by reforming her lifestyle. Her story is the same as that of many British people. For too long the doctors of this country have been expected to put back on their feet people who got there through their own neglect! Now, at last, I am making a stand and suing a patient for medical negligence, that is to say, the neglect of their own welfare!

[Great cheering from the public gallery. Shouts of "Attaboy!" and "For he's a jolly good Fellowes!". Waving of banners and flags, etc]

Judge: What is the meaning of this outburst?

Man in Court: We are the provisional wing of the BMA, my Lord. We have come to cheer our man on.

Judge: Well, you won't do it in my court. One more cheep out of you and I'll have you ejected by the hard men of the High Court, all ex-night club bouncers, trained to inflict injuries which baffle all the top doctors. Carry on, Mr Matchless.

More of this exceedingly topical court case tomorrow, I hope, when Mrs Armstrong attempts to enter the witness stand.