Exclusive: Strip health ombudsman of powers to impose fines, say GPs

The health service ombudsman should not have the power to impose fines or 'conciliation' payments on practices, according to GPs responding to a GPonline poll.

Three quarters of more than 300 GPs who responded to a question asking whether the ombudsman should have the power to enforce fines or conciliation payments said it should not.

Medico-legal experts said earlier this year that a recent supreme court ruling could help prevent the emergence of a system under which fines imposed by ombudsman organisations across the UK operate in tandem with legal compensation for medical negligence.

The UK's highest court ruled in May this year that Northern Ireland's equivalent of the health service ombudsman could not order a practice to pay £10,000 to the widow of a patient who received poor care ahead of his death from a myocardial infarction.

GP fines

The demand for payment came despite the fact that Northern Ireland's Complaints Commissioner - recently subsumed into a newly-created Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman - made no claim that the practice's actions had caused the patient's death.

Dr Rob Hendry, medical director at the medical indemnity organisation Medical Protection, told GPonline earlier this year that there were 'half a dozen' other cases in which practices faced recommendations that they make payments worth between £5,000 and £10,000 to patients.

'These are sums that look like compensation, but unlike in a civil claim where it is clear what the payment is for - loss of earnings for example - in these you are not given a reason, it is described as a conciliatory payment,' he said.

GP performance

But the GPonline poll also found that just over one in 30 GPs who responded said they had been asked to pay a fine or conciliation payment by the ombudsman. Respondents reported being asked to make payments of up to £10,000, and a handful of GPs said their practice had refused to pay up.

One GP said her practice had been ordered to pay £1,500 as a 'goodwill gesture' after potential shortcomings in care.

Another GP who responded to the survey said: 'The role of the civil legal system is to provide financial compensation if clinical negligence is proven by due process. This is no part of the ombudsman's role and simply serves to increase and prolong complaints.'

Photo: iStock

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