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GPs should ‘expect to be sued once every 10 years’, says defence organisation

A GP practising for 40 years can expect to be sued four times on average, according to data from the Medical Defence Union.

And, although over 80% of cases are unsuccessful, legal reform is needed to reduce the cost pressure of lawsuits on the NHS, the MDU said.

Speaking today at the Westminster Health Forum, MDU chief executive Dr Christine Tomkins said 'claims against GPs have doubled in frequency and cost over the last seven years'.

She said: 'Last year in 83% of the medical claims against MDU members, the patient had not been negligently damaged. This is a bad outcome for everyone – emotionally and financially.

'The legal process is very stressful for all involved and a heavy burden to expect GPs to carry. Even if damages are not paid, we need to investigate cases thoroughly and the process is still costly.'

With the cause for the rise in claims numbers found in the legal climate rather than a decline in GP standards, legal reform is necessary, the MDU said.

And, according to Dr Tomkins, the Government's plans for a state-backed GP indemnity scheme 'won’t address the root cause of the rising cost of compensation claims', adding that 'all it will do is move the bill to the taxpayer'.

She said: 'The MDU has been campaigning for a change in the law which would allow defendants such as the MDU to buy NHS and social care packages to meet patient needs.

'Currently Section S2(4)of the Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act 1948 requires all personal injury defendants to disregard the availability of NHS care when paying compensation. This should be repealed, boosting NHS funds for the benefit of all patients.

'The current system is hurting everyone and impeding access to healthcare. What we need is root and branch legal reform and we need it now.'

It comes as the number of written complaints relating to primary care services, including GP and dental practices, have continued to rise. NHS Digital data for England showed that there were 94,637 written complaints in 2017/18, compared to 90,579 in 2016/17.

It also comes as the BMA said this week that GPs should retain their medical defence organisation subscriptions when the state-backed indemnity scheme comes in next year.

Readers' comments (9)

  • 83% unsuccessful is a massive number. Each one represents a doctor being harmed unfairly. Probably more as I suspect many of the remaining 17% are settled to reduce the risk rather than there being true negligence.

    I think there is an overall reluctance to pursue costs when a claim is unsuccessful and that needs to change.

    Many claims are as a result of a patient/ family member being unhappy with an outcome despite everything being done correctly. People at the moment rarely consider that, perhaps influenced by bereavement, guilt or the effects of an illness. If there was a good chance (83%) that you would be significantly out of pocket or declared bankrupt on the back of your claim, you might be more inclined to consider how appropriate your legal action is before impacting the well being health and insurance premium of a doctor who has in fact done nothing wrong.

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  • Lots of scum trying to make a quick buck.... they just need to find the right clients

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  • Vinci Ho

    I can only quote a Chinese saying ,’If you prepared to eat salty fish , prepare to be very thirsty as well.’
    Not quite right but we are where we are.

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  • What Now?

    With the cause for the rise in claims numbers found in the legal climate rather than a decline in GP standards, legal reform is necessary, the MDU said.

    How does this affect nurse practitioners
    who are propping up the service

    Vicarious liability for GP'S ??

    OOH is exponentially more risky
    without case notes

    Its about time our pay reflected
    these rising risks

    hourly rate in line with lawyers would be lovely
    250/hr ???

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  • I blame T Blair for his renowned phrase (among others) of ‘education, education, education’, shared with the fragrant Ally McBeal. So we bred hordes of highly qualified lawyers for a diminishing legal marketplace. They had to find something to fulfill their aspirations. The medical profession was an obvious target and goldmine (seemingly affluent, defensive but poorly defended and on a rapid decline from being held high in public opinion). That such an attack might be detrimental to the community at large was neither here nor there.

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  • doctordog.

    I thought it was every two years.

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  • In these day and age, it would be unwise not to practice defensively. The system encourages it. I will not be surprised if the coroner ends up giving post mortem to everyone if it goes on.

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  • GPs should ‘expect to be sued once every 10 years’, says defence organisation, so get out of it quick and stop paying these organisations who feed and live off this fear.

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  • now worth working

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