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Doctors under unprecedented pressure, claims MDU

Clinical negligence claims and referrals to regulatory bodies "at all time high”

Caroline White

Monday, 13 August 2012

Doctors are facing unprecedented pressure as claims for clinical negligence compensation and referrals to regulatory bodies have reached an “all time high,” concludes the medical defence body, the Medical Defence Union (MDU).

In its annual report, the MDU claims that the medico-legal challenges faced by doctors are “unmatched” in the organisation’s 126 year history.

In 2011, the MDU opened 17% more medical claims files, saw an 18% rise in requests for assistance with General Medical Council investigations and a 56% increase in disciplinary cases against GP and hospital doctor members, compared to the previous year.

And some 30,000 doctors contacted the MDU’s helplines last year, the figures show.

Dr Christine Tomkins, MDU chief executive, said doctors were facing “a time of unprecedented change in both the medico-legal climate and their working environment.”

There had been a sharp increase in the number of complaints made to the GMC, though there was no evidence of a drop in professional standards, she said. The number and cost of negligence claims against doctors was also rising.

Doctors were also up against new regulatory challenges, such as the introduction of revalidation later this year and for GP practices, registration with the Care Quality Commission in 2013.

The report’s publication follows hot on the heels of the announcement last week that the National Clinical Assessment Service (NCAS), which works with NHS organisations to resolve performance concerns about doctors, among others, is to join the NHS Litigation Authority.

NCAS will become an operating division of the Authority from April 1 next year, when its agreed one year hosting by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence comes to an end

NCAS had been part of the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA), which was abolished as part of the government’s review of arm’s length bodies in 2010.

The review recognised the value of NCAS’s role, but said that the agency could no longer rely on state funding and would have to find a way to pay for itself.

Richard Douglas Director-General Strategy, Finance & NHS, DH Head of the Government Finance Profession, at the Treasury, wrote to NCAS interim director Lynn Hugo, advising her of the government’s decision, on August 1.

“The NHS LA and NCAS share a common purpose of enabling better patient safety in the NHS, and the planned incorporation of NCAS into NHS LA will help to maximise synergies between the two organisations,” Mr Douglas wrote.

“I am aware that...NCAS has already carried out a considerable amount of work on the development of a more flexible service model which would enable it to deliver more targeted and swifter advice and support to NHS organisations. Ministers are keen that NCAS should develop this model further,” he said.

He added that the government understood the need for careful planning to underpin a move towards self funding, and as such, had not set a date for this to be finalised.

But he made it clear that NCAS would need to raise at least a proportion of its own income by 2014-15.

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