Exclusive A medical defence organisation (MDO) has seen its busiest months ever as part of a 23% increase in the number of GPs it is supporting with complaints and claims made against them – including over face-to-face appointments.
The Medical Defence Union (MDU) told Pulse that its medico-legal advisers have seen the increase in activity as the UK emerges from the pandemic, opening over 200 more support case files in March 2021 compared to the average over the previous five years.
The organisation has also seen a 23% increase in GP case numbers so far this year compared with last year, it said. It was unable to provide figures due to commercial sensitivity.
The introduction of a state-backed indemnity scheme for GPs in England and Wales means late-stage litigation is handled by NHS Resolution – but MDOs assist members with complaints, incident reports, GMC cases and queries around inquests and litigation at early stages.
MDU professional services director Dr Matthew Lee, who will take over as chief executive in September, said March this year was the ‘busiest month we’ve ever seen’, while April and May case numbers were also higher than any other months over the last five years.
He added that a ‘perfect storm’ of a ‘broad range of things’ is driving the increase in case numbers, including patient expectations that they will be able to have face-to-face appointments as lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Dr Lee said: ‘Some of the concerns that have been raised have been around the inability to actually access doctors face to face, with an expectation that everything is returning to normal, so why can’t we catch up on the appointments we wanted to have?’
Patients have also ‘stored up’ complaints about care they received during the pandemic’s peak – such as around delayed or missed diagnoses – until a time ‘when the NHS looked under less strain’, he added.
Meanwhile, GMC cases are starting to come in again ‘with increased regularity’ as the regulator starts to ‘catch up’ with cases that had been delayed or caught in a backlog and GPs are facing some ‘quite difficult questions’ around patients who died during the pandemic, he said.
Dr Lee said: ‘Quite a number of our members are concerned that now post-pandemic fingers might start to be being pointed at those who were facing an almost impossible situation at times of not being able to get out and either see people or even refer them to hospital when you usually would.’
And with a workforce ‘under more strain than they’ve ever been before’, the increased strain added by medico-legal cases is having ‘profound effects’ on GPs’ wellbeing, he warned.
He said: ‘Things are waking up from a medico-legal perspective and it’s not the best time for it.
‘To receive say a GMC complaint at this point when you’ve been questioning whether or not you could even go on [from] a clinical perspective for the last few months could well be the final straw.’
It follows a recent MDU study that found that nearly all GPs have had a complaint lodged against them at some point during their career.
Meanwhile, a small survey by the Medical Protection Society (MPS) found that more than half (52%) of practice staff taking part in the Covid vaccination programme had been threatened with physical abuse, with some saying that ‘notes written and posted through the door or into a prescription box left staff concerned for their safety’.
The survey of 222 UK GPs, practice nurses, nurse practitioners and practice managers, conducted between 21 May and 16 June, also found that 53% said their surgery or vaccination centre had been ‘defaced by anti-vaccination material, such as graffiti or posters’.
And 75% said they had suffered verbal abuse during the Covid vaccination programme, reporting shouting, swearing, threats of complaints and ‘emotional manipulation’, including patients telling staff ‘it will be your fault if I die’, the MPS said.
One anonymous respondent said a patient ‘threatened to kill themselves if they weren’t given the first vaccine ahead of schedule’ while another said they had been ‘blamed for anything that went wrong in the [vaccination] programme’, it added.
MPS medico-legal lead for risk prevention Dr Pallavi Bradshaw said that a ‘zero-tolerance policy to abuse must be enforced across the NHS so healthcare workers feel their safety is a priority’, along with wellbeing support for all GP practice staff.
GPs are facing increasing pressure from patients demanding services return to ‘normal’, with some telling Pulse that their practices have received abuse from patients as a direct result of NHS England’s recent face-to-face order.
In recent months, talks have begun between the BMA’s Northern Ireland GP Committee and the Government in Northern Ireland to secure state-backed indemnity for GPs across the country.
If an agreement is reached it would mean all UK countries have a state-backed indemnity scheme in place, apart from Scotland where indemnity costs are lower.