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Four out of five GPs order extra tests due to fear of being sued by patients

A survey of nearly 1,400 UK GPs has revealed the various ways they practise defensively due to fear of being sued for clinical negligence.

The Medical Protection Society (MPS) found that more than four out of five GPs (84%) were prompted by fear to order more tests and make more referrals than they otherwise would.

Nearly nine in 10 (87%) said they were increasingly fearful of being sued, with 41% saying this had resulted in them prescribing medication where not clinically necessary.

The MPS said its findings shed light on a wider societal problem, whereby it is becoming culturally acceptable to sue when only minor injury or inconvenience is sustained.

The number of minor NHS clinical negligence claims, resulting in damages under £3,000 paid out to the patient, increased from 646 in 2015/16 to 817 in 2016/17, according to NHS Resolution data.

The MPS highlighted one claim where the patient received £1,500 in damages, with £627 paid out for claimant legal costs, after alleging delayed diagnosis of a foot injury despite making a full recovery.

One survey respondent commented: ‘The stress, anxiety and sleepless nights this causes us is terrible and disproportionate – time that could be spent caring for patients and reviewing process and protocol to improve future care is spent worrying about this.

‘It also leads to defensive practise, over investigating and that itself incurs more cost to the NHS.’

MPS senior medicolegal advisor Dr Pallavi Bradshaw said: ‘Unnecessary tests or investigations are not in the best interests of patients and may use up limited NHS resources.

‘Doctors should be able to exercise their clinical skills and judgment without the fear of claims affecting their decision-making. A full-time GP can now expect to receive two clinical negligence claims over their career; the environment is challenging and the temptation to over prescribe or over investigate is understandable.’

She added that the MPS has called on the Government to consider a minimum threshold for these types of claims.

Survey findings in full

  • 87% of GPs are increasingly fearful of being sued;
  • 84% said the fear of being sued has resulted in them ordering more tests or making more referrals;
  • 41% said it has resulted in them prescribing medication when not clinically necessary.

Source: MPS survey of 1,374 UK-based GPs, undertaken in Spring 2017