Advice and development

Giving evidence at an inquest into a patient death

Nursing student Mark Weetman says he learned alot from his experience of being a witness at an inquest. A key lesson is the importance of making detailed notes at the time of an incident. 
Inquest_tile_Getty.jpg

Nursing student Mark Weetman says he learned alot from his experience of being a witness at an inquest. A key lesson is the importance of making detailed notes at the time of an incident.

In my first year as a mental health nursing student, I was involved in an incident that resulted in the death of a service user.

An inquest was held in November last year, almost two years after the event, and I was called to give evidence at the coroner's court about what I had observed during that shift.

This made me anxious. Not only was I being asked to recall the events of that day in detail, and in the presence of the service user's family, but I was having to do so in

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Nursing student Mark Weetman says he learned alot from his experience of being a witness at an inquest. A key lesson is the importance of making detailed notes at the time of an incident. 


Being called as a witness before a court can be a daunting experience. Picture: Getty

In my first year as a mental health nursing student, I was involved in an incident that resulted in the death of a service user. 

An inquest was held in November last year, almost two years after the event, and I was called to give evidence at the coroner's court about what I had observed during that shift. 

This made me anxious. Not only was I being asked to recall the events of that day in detail, and in the presence of the service user's family, but I was having to do so in court: a potentially intimidating setting. 

Reflective log 

Immediately after the event, my university tutor advised me to keep a reflective log of what had happened. This proved useful, as I was asked to give a statement as part of the trust's investigation into the incident.

When I was asked to prepare a statement for the court, the reflective log and the previous statement I had given proved invaluable in helping me to recall the incident in detail. 

The trust's legal team supported me in preparing the statement and provided guidance on what to expect, including the kind of questions I might be asked. This was reassuring and helped to relieve my anxiety. 

On the day I gave evidence, I was allowed to look inside the courtroom beforehand, so I could familiarise myself with the surroundings. During the proceedings, the coroner was aware that I was a nursing student, and was patient, giving me time to respond to questions. 

Learning experience 

Although this was a challenging experience, it helped me to develop as a professional. If I had not kept written information about the events of that day, I would have found it almost impossible to remember the necessary details when giving evidence. The reflective account also helped me deal with the emotions I felt, and enabled me to improve my practice. 

To other nursing students and health professionals who face a similar situation, I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping a reflective account of an incident. The coroner's court is not there to establish blame, but to determine the circumstances surrounding a person's death. 

By sharing my experience, I hope I can help relieve some of the anxiety about giving evidence at a coroner's court. 

Every incident is a learning experience for the individuals and the trust involved. For me, it was an opportunity to reflect on and inform my practice, to help ensure there are no similar situations in the future.   

Top tips for giving evidence at an inquest 

  • Keep accurate records. After an incident, always write a reflective account so you have this to refer to if necessary.
  • Go over your statement in detail so you are as prepared as possible to answer questions. 
  • Familiarise yourself with the environment. This will help calm your nerves when giving evidence.
  • Stay calm and don't rush into answers. Take time to formulate your responses and use your written statements to help you recall details.
  • Ask for support. You do not have to deal with this situation alone, so ask for support from university tutors, nursing and medical colleagues and the trust's legal team. 

About the author 

 

 

 

Mark Weetman is a third-year mental health nursing student at London South Bank University 

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