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Three in the morning is not usually when a GP would expect to be roused from sleep to give a patient medical attention, but this is commonplace for a forensic medical examiner. Detainees rarely ask to see “the Doc” during sociable hours. Victims of sexual assault generally need to be examined in the wee small hours. So why would any sensible GP choose to expose themselves to these inconvenient working hours?
I have worked as a FME on and off for the last fifteen years, and despite the unsociable hours, it is still a challenging and enjoyable role. The patients who I meet in custody suites and sexual assault centres are sometimes challenging, always have medical needs which I rarely see in my day job, and usually are grateful for help at times of significant stress.
I first took the position when the previous incumbent in my partnership gave up the role. I was the only one covering all medical calls to a police station servicing a town of twenty thousand potential detainees. Over the years the organisation of FME cover, and the role has changed, so that now when I am on call I cover a county of 750,000 patients and distances of fifty miles between custody suites. At the outset I could be called out for anything from a detainee with headache to an unexpected or suspicious death. The role is now a lot more focused, with nurse practitioners dealing with ninety percent of calls, and the forensic medical examiner dealing with only the most complex cases; mental health assessments, sexual assault, complex medical conditions, and unexpected and suspicious deaths.
When I took on the role I shadowed my colleague who was leaving, and then attended various courses; RCGP drug and alcohol management, forensic sampling techniques, mental health for GPs, and the like. These courses are still available separately, but there are also courses available as introductions. Most police forces contract external organisations to provide forensic medical services, these organisations will employ you and usually also provide training for both new and experienced employees. You can also become members of the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine, who provide training and guidance.
Our work is classed as unscheduled care by the medical indemnity organisations, so you need to purchase this indemnity cover, or be indemnified by their employing organisation. The different employing organisations will pay differing amounts and have different employment models. Some will employ you directly, and will pay a salary, others will pay you on a sessional basis. A recent G4S advertisement for a full time FME offered £75,000 per year plus mileage expenses.
If you are looking for a role in which you can learn and use new skills, and which will expose you to patients in their most vulnerable and needful moments, then being an forensic medical examiner may be worth exploring.
Kieran Sharrocks is East Midlands rep for the sessional GPs committee.
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