Fatal Accident Inquiry into the death of John Willock

Issued by Sheriff Colin Pettigrew, Sheriff of North Strathclyde at Paisley.


Mr John Willock died at home on 29 December 2009 having made repeated telephone calls to NHS 24 in the two preceding days requesting medical advice and assistance at a time of the year when his own GP’s surgery was closed due to holidays.  The procurator fiscal took the decision to apply for a Fatal Accident Inquiry to be conducted into his death.

The purpose of a Fatal Accident Inquiry is to enlighten and inform those persons who have an interest in the circumstances of the death. So far as relevant to the Inquiry the Sheriff shall make a Determination setting out  the following circumstances of the death  so far as they have been established to his satisfaction:

a)    where and when the death took place,

b)    the cause or causes of the death,

c)    the reasonable precautions, if any, whereby the death might have been avoided,

d)    the defects, if any, in any system of work which contributed to the death, and

e)    any other facts which are relevant to the circumstances of the death.

The Inquiry was restricted to the circumstances relating to the death of Mr John Willock It sought to ensure that members of the his family are in possession, so far as possible, of the full facts surrounding the death.  The broader function of an Inquiry, within the scope of the relevant legislation is to ensure that the circumstances are fully examined and disclosed in the public domain.

The Inquiry was not a general inquiry into the workings of NHS 24.  


In terms of Section 6 (1) (b) of the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths (Scotland) Act 1976 the cause of death was septicaemia, source uncertain.

The Sheriff concluded that there were no reasonable precautions whereby the death of Mr John Willock might have been avoided and that there were no defects in any system of working which contributed to his death. 

In terms of Section 6(1)(e) of the Act Sheriff Pettigrew identified the following relevant facts:

(i)      Call Handlers and Nurse Advisors within NHS 24 should ask open questions of a caller with a view to forming a “holistic view” of the patient’s overall health and wellbeing;

(ii)     Nurse Advisors within NHS 24 should check the call history of every caller; and

(iii)    NHS 24 should undertake a review of whether or not it is in the best interests of patients that Nurse Advisors cannot directly access the Out of Hours Service GP’s records.

At the conclusion Sheriff Pettigrew expressed the condolences of the court to Ms Rogers and the other members of Mr Willock’s family. 

“I was most impressed and moved by the dignified and attentive manner in which they, and in particular Ms Rogers, conducted themselves throughout this complex and lengthy Inquiry.  Their interest in and demeanour throughout the Inquiry, during what at times must have been a very trying experience for them, is to be commended”.

Full FAI Detemination