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GPs could face GMC action if they take up 'cash for referral' promotions being offered by personal injury law firms.

Solicitors across the UK have written to GPs promising earnings of up to £10,000 a year if they regularly recommend them to patients.

Personal injury firm Higgins and Co, based in Birkenhead, Merseyside, offered GPs in northern England £175 for each patient they referred and £50 for copies of medical re-cords with patients' permission.

The company said this could earn GPs up to £10,000 a year if they referred just one patient a week.

Kent Accident Link has also written to GPs in the South-East offering cash for referrals. Around 10 GPs are believed to have taken up the two solicitors' offers.

But the GMC said the schemes were not appropriate as they gave the appearance of a conflict of interest and doctors had no expertise in legal services.

A spokeswoman said the council had published guidance on the issue and would consider taking disciplinary action against any doctor who took part.

GPC chair Dr Hamish Meldrum, who received a letter from Higgins and Co at his surgery in Bridlington, east Yorkshire, said the practice was 'not an appropriate way for professionals to work'.

He added: 'Patients normally expect doctors to give unbiased advice. It is difficult to argue that if they know you are getting paid £175 for doing so.'

Dr Meldrum said the GPC would seek urgent talks with the Law Society to get its guidance changed if the practice became more widespread.

The Law Society changed its rules in April to allow solicitors to make payments to third parties.

Dr John Blakeborough, a GP in Edge Hill, Liverpool, said he ripped up the Higgins and Co letter. 'It is a conflict of interest: we are trying to make patients better and if you direct them towards compensation they don't need to get better until they get a lot of money.'

The Law Society said payment to doctors by solicitors would be subject to 'very strict controls'.

By Cato Pedder

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