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Number of claims against GPs at all-time high

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) saw a record number of new complaints against their doctors in 2014 alongside the usual clinical negligence claims, according to their annual report.

An extra 14,000 cases were opened last year for new medico-legal issues including disciplinary procedures, criminal investigations, and ethical incidents in clinical practice.

The MDU and DDU websites also reported ‘complaint’ as the most searched-for term in the guidance and advice section amongst the 370,000 yearly visitors – which the union described as a potential “reflection of the current climate facing doctors”.

Dr Christine Tomkins, MDU chief executive, said: “The truth is there are many and various reasons why patients bring complaints and claims and it has never been easier for them to do so. It’s also important to realise that while the number as costs of claims are increasing each year, almost 80% of medical claims notified to us are successfully defended.”

The MDU also blamed two new laws that “risk increasingly criminalising medical practice”, including the the new criminal offence of ill-treatment or wilful neglect outlined in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.

Dr Peter Williams, MDU’s chairman, said this would result in more “unnecessary” investigations into the conduct of healthcare practitioners.

“Coupled with the introduction of the statutory duty of candour for healthcare organisations, we are seeing an increasing willingness by policymakers to criminalise poor care. This is despite the paucity of evidence of the kind of neglect of lack of candour that the laws are intended to address.

“Of course bad practice should be eradicated, but criminalising it will, we believe, only serve to erode trust in the health professions.”

Tomkins added that the “rise in challenges” to clinicians will place “serious” professional and personal pressure on doctors and dentists.

Separately, a new deal has been signed between GPs and Vocare, a provider of outsourced clinical healthcare services to the NHS. GPs not employed by the NHS, who must currently pay up to £30,000 per year in indemnity fees if they work for an out-of-hours service, will now have their costs covered independently of medical defence organisations.

Chief executive of Vocare, John Harrison, said: “Medical indemnity should be based on a provider’s record and quality of performance rather than a focus on the risk of rare cases that may have significant financial consequences.

“The current arrangement for indemnity cover is preventing flexibility in out-of-hours work when we need more GPs doing this work.”

The move, backed by insurance brokerage firm Lockton, is expected to relieve some of the pressure on A&E departments, walk-in clinics and NHS 111 services.

Kevin Culliney, head of healthcare at Lockton, hopes the decision will “go some way” to providing a solution to the UK’s current “GP crisis”.

The MDU outlined in its 2014 report that a total of £43.5m were directed at paying out discretionary indemnity claims and legal costs.


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