When instructing an expert witness in ophthalmology, solicitors need to be confident the person drafting the report is not only an expert in their field but that they are also certified and experienced in writing unbiased expert reports that can assist the Court. All of our expert witnesses reach that high standard.
One of our panel, Mr Sumith Perera FRCS, Cert.LRS, MRCOphth, MBBS, DCEH sat down with us to talk about his role as an expert witness. Sumith is one of the most experienced cataract and refractive surgeons in the country having performed more than 25,000 cataract and refractive procedures. He let us in on what 20 years of writing medico-legal reports have taught him about the importance of impartiality.
Thank you for talking with us. Could you tell us a little about how you became an ophthalmologist?
I have wanted to be an ophthalmologist since I was five years old. My mother always joked that our neighbour in Sri Lanka was an ophthalmologist, and he had an extremely glamorous wife, and this is how I came to decide that a career in ophthalmology was for me.
I gained my primary medical degree in Sri Lanka and won a World Health Organisation scholarship to study Ophthalmology at the Institute of Ophthalmology London. After I completed my training at the South Thames region and Moorfields Eye Hospital I joined the NHS in 1996.
Nowadays I work as a consultant ophthalmic surgeon with a special interest in cataract surgery and emergency eye care at the Royal Berkshire Hospital Reading and Prince Charles Eye Unit Windsor. I am also the clinical lead for Eye Casualty Services for the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust and the clinical lead at Prince Charles Eye Unit Windsor.
When did you become interested in medico-legal work?
I was introduced to the idea of writing medico-legal reports by a colleague in 1996. I found I enjoyed the critical analysis aspect of writing expert reports, especially thinking about the questions the Court will have regarding the case before it and how my report can assist with providing answers.
What type of expert reports do you produce?
I specialise in clinical/medical negligence and personal injury.
You have 20 years’ experience in writing expert reports – what do you see as your strengths?
Two decades of experience have taught me how to filter out extraneous details and focus my reports on what is relevant to the Court. I take care to explain matters in lay terms and provide the instructing counsel with any important background information. Furthermore, I am always available to clarify any matters after the report is received.
Do you normally see the patient, or can you work off images alone?
In most cases I need to see the patient, especially if I am required to provide a long term prognosis. In my experience, there are a minority of patients who exaggerate the extent of their injury and/or the complications arising from it. An in-person examination allows me to swiftly evaluate whether or not a patient is being honest.
In your opinion, what makes a good expert witness?
You have to be independent and impartial and refuse to ignore facts that may not suit the solicitor providing the instruction. I always ensure my arguments and opinions are clear and are supported by peer-reviewed literature.
Finally, is there any advice you can give to fellow ophthalmologists about avoiding clinical negligence claims?
I believe poor documentation leads to many claims. In most cases, the health professional concerned has explained things to the patient but if this is not recorded there is no evidence of the consultation/follow-up process.
Sumith, thank you so much for your time.