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Medicolegal Adviser

Sally Old


Where do you work?


I work for a large medical defence organization (an MDO) with over 200,000 members.  Many doctors are members of an MDO for advice and support with ethical, professional and legal issues arising from their practice.

How would you describe your role?

Mostly my day is taken up advising members on medicolegal difficulties in their practice.  There are a huge range of dilemmas that come up and no two days are the same.  I might be advising a retired surgeon on how long she needs to retain the records she holds for patients one minute, and in the next breath speaking to a GP who has a Police Officer in her practice reception area requesting access to the medical records of an alleged criminal.  

We give advice on the telephone (we staff a 24-hour advice line) or in writing.  Written files would tend to be more complex cases, for example where the doctor is asked to give evidence at an Inquest or faces a complaint about their care of a patient.

In addition to the personal advice to members which is the core part of my job, we also give more general advice in the form of lectures and written articles for healthcare professional audiences.

Behind the scenes the MDU also works to forward the interests of its members and to that end we liaise with the medical regulators, government and other agencies.  For example, I have a particular interest in ensuring that doctors who are ill get appropriate support and help.

How long have you performed the role?


Since 2006

Why did you want to work for your current employer?

I valued the concepts of fairness and justice.  I also enjoyed the opportunity to work from home.

What educational qualifications do people need to perform your role?

To be an MLA you would need to be an experienced senior doctor with some legal knowledge/experience.  For example, I was an NHS consultant (in cancer treatment, Clinical Oncology) before taking up my current job and I have a Masters in Medical Law and Ethics.

What practical experience do people need to help them to obtain your role?

As much as anything it’s about having good communication skills and common sense.

Are there any particular personal skills which people need to have to perform your role?

Good communication skills are key.  The doctors who contact us for advice are often distressed by the situation they are in.  They are not even always sure what question they want to ask us. Sometimes the advice we give them is not what they were wanting/expecting to hear.  It is important to listen carefully, ask the right questions to draw out the relevant facts and concerns and then to be able to give advice sensitively, clearly and sometimes robustly.


What do you enjoy about your work?

I love the variety and the challenge.  Every time a member contacts me for advice it is because it is a really difficult situation, usually one they haven’t faced before. Because we see these cases all the time we are able to help and guide them.  I know I am helping patients too, by ensuring their doctors get the right support and advice.

What can be challenging about your work?

Nobody calls us for advice when things are going well!  It’s not a job to take on if you would find it hard to deal day on day with heart-breaking cases like where a patient has died or a child is at risk of abuse from their parents.

Any other information which you think would be of help and assistance to someone reading your interview?

At the moment the future of this job is very much up in the air because of changes in the way that the government and NHS takes responsibility for doctors and their actions.  It is not clear where the role of MDOs will be in the years ahead.

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