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NHS ‘compensation culture’ reduces patient access to GPs

Patients are shooting themselves in the foot when deciding to bring unnecessary claims against GPs, a medical indemnity provider has warned.

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) said rising rates of claims, and higher sums paid out, is leading to higher costs for GPs and ultimately a smaller workforce.

Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum today, MDU chief executive Dr Christine Tomkins said that the impact of England’s high compensation claims was having a ‘catastrophic’ impact on general practice and the NHS more widely.

She said this comes as MDU’s GP members are ‘facing unprecedented pressures’ and ‘seeing more patients, with increasingly complex medical conditions’.

She added: ‘All this when there is an acute shortage of GPs, partly because indemnity costs are forcing early retirement or change of practice mid-career.

‘On top of this, the legal environment promotes litigation over resolving concerns in other ways and stimulates increasing numbers of claims. It makes the job intolerable for some, and GPs are powerless to do anything about it.’

In response, the MDU is calling for legal reform, arguing that ‘the current system benefits no one’.

Dr Tomkins said this was underlined by the fact that during 2016, 85% of medical claims closed found that the patient had not been negligently damaged and the claim against the MDU member did not success.

She said: ‘This must have been distressing for the claimants and equally distressing for doctors who were subjected to the claims process. We must move to a fairer way of doing things.

‘We have long argued that only radical legal reform will halt the rising costs of claims and restore some equilibrium to the system and have been fighting for this through our Fair Compensation campaign.’

She said the need ‘became even more urgent’ following the March discount rate change which had led to some GP claims ‘valued at over £20m’.

She concluded: ‘GPs just can’t pay these sums and nor should they. Claimants must be adequately compensated but the compensation must be fair and must not damage the access to healthcare we all need.’

It comes as the Ministry of Justice revealed a plan last week to stem a rise in payouts for personal injury claims related to the discount rate. Ministers will propose new legislation which would mean more predictability over how the rate – which affects the cost of GP indemnity fees – is reviewed in future.

However the MoJ said this did not mean any immediate review of the rate set earlier this year.