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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.’