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Civil Litigation Bill could lead to increased GP indemnity costs, MDDUS warns

A Bill proposed by the Scottish Government could push up fees for medical indemnity for GPs in Scotland, the MDDUS has warned.

The Civil Litigation (Expenses and Group Proceedings) (Scotland) Bill, which is aimed at making it more financially accessible to take legal action, proposes to stop claimants from ever having to pay the defendant’s legal costs unless the claim was fraudulent.

The MDDUS had argued that the Bill should excempt medical negligence claims, but the first-stage report from Holyrood’s Justice Committee on the Bill, published 21 December, did not back the view.

MDDUS senior lawyer and practice development manager Joanna Jervis said: ‘The introduction of qualified one-way costs shifting (QOCS) will lead to increased costs in defending unsuccessful actions, which may affect our member subscriptions as well as the costs to the NHS more generally.

‘We are disappointed that the committee did not take the opportunity of excluding clinical negligence cases from the QOCS provisions, bearing in mind that this additional burden on the public purse will inevitably restrict the resources available to deliver high quality NHS care.’

QOCS is already in place in England and MDDUS said it had seen an impact from this.

A spokesperson said: ‘The bottom line is that if people can take claims with no financial risk to themselves it increases the chances they will do so. As a member-funded not for profit mutual that means any rise on cost is passed on to our members.’

The other impacts of the Civil Litigation Bill, if passed, would be the possibility for claimants to bring group actions for the first time, as well as the ability for solicitors to take on claimant cases on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis.

But the MDDUS welcomed the Justice Committee’s recommendation to reform rules on additional fees to prevent a pursuer’s solicitor being entitled to judicial expenses, a success fee and an additional fee.

‘This potentially amounts to triple counting and is not in the interests of justice. Instead, the court or auditor should take account of the extent of any success fee agreement in place,’ said Ms Jervis.

GP indemnity costs tend to be significantly cheaper in Scotland compared with England, mainly because patients are less likely to bring medical negligence claims.

As chronicled by Pulse, the continuing rise to GP indemnity fees has prompted GPs to retire early, work fewer shifts and shun out-of-hours commitments.

Last year, the Department of Health committed to bringing in a state-backed scheme to reduce indemnity costs to GPs in England.