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Retired GP faced with legal claim after 40 years as cases jump 15%

Medical defence experts have recorded a 15% rise in the number of cases against doctors during 2012 – including one involving an allegation that a GP did not refer a patient quickly enough for a caesarean more than 40 years ago.

The rise recorded by the Medical Defence Union represents a continuing upsurge in complaints about doctors, following a 17% rise in the number of cases filed in 2011.

The figures are contained the MDU Reports and Accounts 2012 document published today. The medical defence body blamed the rise on patients becoming more likely to complain and have higher expectations regarding health care.

One case involved a retired GP who received a claim more than 40 years after seeing a woman on a GP-led maternity unit he worked on in the 1960s. It was alleged that the GP should have referred the woman more quickly to a specialist unit for a caesarean, to avoid the baby being born with brain damage. The GP successfully defended the case.

Increase in 2012 partly reflects legal changes that reduced the amount lawyers were able to charge for negligence claims from April 1 2013. There was a rush of cases being processed before this date, so that the lawyers could claim the higher fees, said the MDU.

More than 70% of claims were successfully defended, however.

MDU chief executive Christine Tomkins said: ‘There are no indications that the current medico-legal position, where doctors are subject to rising complaints and claims in a highly regulated environment, will ease, even though, looking at the GMC fitness to practise finding it is clear there is no evidence that clinical standards are slipping.

‘It is difficult to identify what lies behind the increase in complaints, but the reasons are likely to be economic and societal.’