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Defence body calls for early help to cut GP legal costs

Clinical negligence claims against GPs rose 16.4% last year

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

GPs need urgent help with their legal costs which are spiraling upwards, according to the UK-wide defence organisation the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS).

The plea comes as early results from the MDDUS’s annual report that have been made public, show that there was a 16.4% rise in the past year in the number of claims for clinical negligence made against its GP members and a 22% rise for all doctors.

MDDUS chief executive Chris Kenny has written to Lord Prior of Brampton, the minister for NHS productivity, who is responsible for taking the next steps following the government’s recent review of GP indemnity.

In the official review published in July, NHS England said it would fund a package of measures thought to be worth £60 million over two years to provide short-term relief to GP practices struggling with the cost of indemnity while working on a longer-term solution.

From April of next year, NHS England will introduce a new Indemnity Support Scheme for practices for at least the next two years to alleviate the immediate pressure of these costs for GPs.

In the meantime, the MDDUS said it was urging the government to push through plans to reduce legal costs and wanted to see “early implementation” of measures to reduce legal costs in clinical negligence cases, such as the government capping legal costs.

In the letter, Mr Kenny says: “We welcome the fact that in the recently published GP Indemnity Review, the government and NHS England found the indemnity market to be competitive and that the price increases our members face are fundamentally driven by factors beyond our own control.

“The absence of effective controls on the amount of costs which can be recovered in negligence cases is a key driver and substantive action is required on the underlying causes of these increases.

“The scope for savings for both medical defence organisations and the NHSLA [NHS Litigation Authority] are considerable, especially for lower value claims. We all have many examples of where the amount paid in legal costs is significantly greater than the compensation payments made to the patient.

“It is for that reason that the idea of a cap to overcome these perverse incentives of the current system is so attractive. Not only will it ensure far tighter management of costs at the level of the individual case, but it will have the right incentive effects in ensuring that only the strongest cases are selected and prepared in the most cost-effective manner.”

Figures from the MDDUS’s 2015 annual report, due to be published next month, show that there was a continuing growing trend in compensation claims and litigation.

The number of claims for clinical negligence against members across the UK rose by 22% compared to the previous year. This included a 16.4% rise in claims notified against GPs and a 20.6% increase in claims against hospital doctors.

Mr Kenny told OnMedica: “Government should consult on capping legal costs in clinical negligence cases as early as possible in the autumn and ideally reach decisions by the end of this year for implementation next.”

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