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GPs face 20% rise in negligence claims, MDU reports

Negligence claims against GPs rise more than against any other doctors

Louise Prime

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Negligence claims against GPs rose by 20% last year – more than against any other group of doctors, reports the Medical Defence Union.

The MDU, which indemnifies more than half of the UK’s GPs and hospital doctors, said there was no evidence of a fall in the quality of GPs’ care or their relationships with patients. It claimed that the increasing popularity of ‘no-win, no-fee’ legal arrangements may be at least partly to blame for the increase in claims.

The MDU said that claims against all doctors were higher in 2010 than in 2009, but the 20% increase in those against GPs was the most marked. Many of these claims, however, related to complaints made or adverse incidents reported in previous years.

The most common basis for a negligence claim against a GP was either delayed or wrong diagnosis, which accounted for 60% of notified claims. Failure to refer patients made up another 15% of claims, and medication errors 10%.

In 2010, the MDU was notified of 13 claims against GPs for more than £1m, compared with just one in 1995. It said that although the number of high-value claims is still relatively few, they represent about half of the total it pays out. A child who needed full-time supervision after being damaged by meningitis claimed £4.5m, a man brain-injured after premature delivery £3.5m and woman who had a subarachnoid haemorrhage £3.8m.

The MDU’s head of claims Jill Harding, attempted to explain the recent increase in claims after a relatively stable period. She said: “While we cannot know all the reasons behind an individual patient’s decision to bring a claim after an adverse event, a factor in this increase may be the availability of ‘no win, no fee’ agreements which enable claimants to litigate with no financial risk.

“The current difficult economic times may also be a factor. We see no evidence, however, of any deterioration in standards of care or in the professional relationships between our GP members and their patients.

“The rising cost of compensation on the other hand, is mainly due to the escalating cost of care. There are continuing improvements in life expectancy and available aids and equipment, including IT provision, leading to claims inflation rising faster than the retail price index. It is worth remembering that the value of a claim has nothing to do with the seriousness of the alleged negligence however.”

The MDU warned that the rise in claims could affect subscriptions.

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