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Compensation culture damaging patients’ ability to access GPs

MDU highlights that compensation claims in England are among the highest in the world

Ingrid Torjesen

Friday, 15 September 2017

GPs are being bombarded with ever more costly compensation claims, because of the current medico-legal climate and this is undermining their morale and pushing some GPs into leaving practice early, damaging patients’ ability to access healthcare, the UK’s leading medical indemnifier, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has warned.

Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum Keynote Seminar ‘Key issues in clinical negligence: funding, early intervention and the future of NHS Resolution’, MDU chief executive, Dr Christine Tomkins explained that compensation claims in England are among the highest in the world and the consequence of this on general practice and the wider NHS is catastrophic.

She said: “The MDU’s GP members are facing unprecedented pressures. They are seeing more patients, with increasingly complex medical conditions and it is a tribute to them that professional standards remain so high. All this when there is an acute shortage of GPs, partly because indemnity costs are forcing early retirement or change of practice mid-career. On top of this, the legal environment promotes litigation over resolving concerns in other ways and stimulates increasing numbers of claims. It makes the job intolerable for some, and GPs are powerless to do anything about it.”

She warned that the current system benefits no one. A recent investigation into clinical negligence costs carried out by the National Audit Office (NAO) concluded that the rise in the number of claims and claims costs is closely associated with recent legal reforms and market developments in legal services, she said. It concluded that the government needs to take a stronger approach in order to the curb the NHS’s clinical negligence costs. During 2016, in 85% of the medical claims closed by the MDU, the patient had not been negligently damaged and the claim against an MDU member did not succeed.

“This must have been distressing for the claimants and equally distressing for doctors who were subjected to the claims process. We must move to a fairer way of doing things,” she said.

“Some GP claims are valued at over £20 million. GPs just can’t pay these sums and nor should they,” she added. “Claimants must be adequately compensated but the compensation must be fair and must not damage the access to healthcare.”

“Only radical legal reform will halt the rising costs of claims and restore some equilibrium to the system,” she emphasised.

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