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GPs go forth

GPs 'more likely to be sued than ever before' as claims rise by 40% in a year

The number of medico-legal claims against GPs rose by 40% in 2012 and is now at record levels, the Medical Protection Society has warned.

The defence body said that GPs were ‘more likely to be sued than ever before’, after an analysis of claims reported by members last year found that the number of claims rose by 40% compared to 2011. The MPS also warned the value of claims has increased, with catastrophic injury cases – such as brain damage from a missed diagnosis of meningitis – being settled for £6m compared with £3.5m a few years ago.

Legal fees have also increased to around five to ten times the amount of compensation awarded in lower value negligence claims. The MPS attributed these increases to the claims environment being thrown ‘out of kilter’ by the advent of no-win, no-fee arrangements.

The results come after Pulse revealed two thirds of GPs have become more defensive in the way they practise medicine over the past year, with the vast majority citing the fear of litigation as the driving force behind the change.

The BMA has launched an investigation into the psychological effects of complaints on doctors, after evidence of rising complaints from patients and managers.

Dr Chris Godeseth, MPS medical risk manager, said: “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.’

‘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 are a number of practical steps that GPs and their practices can take to avoid the risk of receiving a claim or complaint, such as ensuring prescribing and test result systems are robust, and being open and honest with patients when thing go wrong.’

Readers' comments (12)

  • one of the reasons that litigation has increased is that 10minute consultations are unsafe- we used to have catch up pts( a rpt script for contraception or earache in a well child -these are being seen by nurse practitioners ) so we see older /more complicated pts with more chronic illness in a climate of financial austerity - I cannot think of another professional who has 10minutes with a pt/client and can kill them in that time - I would fight very hard for consultations to be increased to 15mins with no reduction in remuneration as we will work just as hard/same hours but hopefully safer -alot of my medical colleagues are under a rediculous amount of pressure and it is going to get worse /out of hours less and less skilled resources are being used to care for pts-and disaster is inevitable

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  • and the ongoing pressure on us not to refer, not to prescribe and I suspect in the not to distant future of not to investigate will just make matters worse

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  • There are a number of practical steps that GPs and their practices can take to avoid the risk of receiving a claim or complaint,

    I have got the best one. I retire early in 4 weeks and 2 days time!

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  • Each GP should have a maximum of 1,200 patient to offer quality care.Above that the indemnity should be covered by NHS.

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  • And then they wonder why no one wants to become a GP!

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  • I've no option but to practice defensively.
    At over 60 patients a day in consults/phone calls, to be dealt with in less than 5 mins, I've got to refer and investigate. I haven't got the time to spend on responding to unwarranted complaints of "I" wasn't referred or investigated.

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  • Vinci Ho

    So the imposition of the new changes in the contract will make GPs spend less time in real face to face care of patients.
    Then the number of medico- legal cases will rise further , I predict. At least , in some of these cases , patients were compromised.
    Hence, the government and DoH are harming the patients while the GPs are being sued (don't forget the mental distress involved for both parties during the legal process).
    For the duty of condour as according to Lord Francis , where can we report about the government doing 'evil things'? Sorry , No Where........

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  • The workload is dangerous and so massive that it leads to mistakes cue the depression and burnout. We have always done long hours but we have to define safe levels of practice. Anon says 60 pts. I find that I have almost 35 consults + 150 other contacts ie acute + rpt precriptions, letters, blood tests , phone calls- each with a potential to kill or maim if I get it wrong. It is far too much - but who should define workloads? I have lived in the torture chamber of little sleep in 80 hour weekends + 168 hour weeks. It was never right, but hey, who should say this ? Do you not hear a deafening silence from BMA and the Royal colleges when it comes to health and safety for doctors? Airline pilots dont do it, lorry drivers dont do it. Let us not do it either.

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  • I am in no doubt that this is a workload and stress related issue. The politicians could do much more to help, but all they do is pile on the work and elevate stress levels. They have much less interest a patient centred NHS than they regularly claim and they have too little understanding of the meat of a GP's work- caring for people with a friendly and relaxed manner.

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  • I think it would be difficult to defend a claim if you are seeing 60 patients a day and think this is too many. This would lead to the conclusion you should see less which would only be possible if you employed more doctors. This would effect your remuneration but the defence that we did not do it because it would personally cost us money is unlikely to go down well.

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