Protecting adults at risk in London: Good practice resource

Investigating adult abuse: Physical assault - issues to consider

When a vulnerable person has been assaulted there may be some visible signs of attack, such as bruising, reddening or other more serious wounds. These injuries should be examined and noted by a medical practitioner. Ideally this should be the person’s GP, but in some cases – such as the possibility of a conflict of interest and in certain criminal offences – a police surgeon (forensic medical examiner) will perform this task. The police should be informed immediately and a qualified police photographer will take a photographic record. Should the adult at risk be in an accident and emergency (A&E) department, then locally agreed protocols for reporting to the police should be followed.

Advice should be given to observe and record the physical and emotional demeanour of the adult at risk. This may be of assistance to any future criminal or civil proceedings.

Consent to medical examination

An adult must consent to a medical examination, so they need to be able to understand what they are giving consent to, and have the capacity to do so voluntarily. It will normally be the responsibility of the forensic medical examiner to ensure that true consent has in fact been given. If a person lacks capacity, medical staff need to make a decision about continuing in line with the best interests principles contained in the Mental Capacity Act 2005. There may be occasions where consent to examination is not given. In such circumstances it might be possible to arrange for the victim’s GP to assist in the examination, if that would be reassuring for the person involved. This should be discussed with the senior police investigating officer and the appropriate agencies.

For information refer to the Department of Health’s guidance (19).