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Patients are increasingly likely to sue GPs

40% rise in claims against GPs, says the Medical Protection Society

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 07 March 2013

Patients are more likely to sue their GP than ever before, according to the Medical Protection Society (MPS).

The MPS said it had analysed figures for the last two years and the number of claims that members had reported to the society had increased by 40% from 2011 to 2012.

Although the society will not reveal the exact number of claims for commercial reasons, it said the rise was a significant one.

Dr Chris Godeseth, MPS medical risk manager said: “GPs are already working in a tough and challenging environment, and unfortunately, rising complaints and claims aren’t going to make things any easier.

“In MPS’s experience, GPs are now more likely to be sued than ever before. This may not come as such a surprise to some GPs, who have perhaps themselves observed more complaints and issues being raised by patients, but it will still cause concern among many who are juggling challenges around funding, resources and commissioning.”

In addition to the increase in number of claims, there was also a rise in the severity of claims being made against GPs.

For cases involving catastrophic injury, such as brain damage arising from a missed diagnosis of meningitis, a few years ago these were being settled for around £3.5million, said the MPS, but now it was not unusual to see such cases settled in excess of £6million.

“The MPS lobbied hard in support of Lord Justice Jackson’s civil justice reforms, and we hope the changes being introduced in April to address excessive legal costs and conditional fee arrangements will start to have a positive impact on these spiralling claims numbers and costs,” said Dr Godeseth.

“In the last few years the claims environment has been thrown ‘out of kilter’ by the advent of no win no fee arrangements. It is absolutely right that patients who experience harm through negligent care receive fair compensation, however for lower value clinical negligence claims we have seen legal fees five to ten times the amount of the compensation awarded, which just doesn’t seem right.

“It’s important that GPs have an understanding of the current claims climate, but the challenge of course is not being thrown off your game or adopting a ‘defensive’ approach.”

There were various practical steps that GPs and their practices could take to avoid the risk of receiving a claim or complaint, he added, such as ensuring prescribing and test result systems were robust, and being open and honest with patients when thing went wrong.

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