This site is intended for health professionals only

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 This should be repealed, boosting NHS funds for the benefit of all patients.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.