GPs can expect to be sued once every 10 years, warns MDU

GPs face being sued four times on average in a 40-year career, according to a leading medical defence organisation.

MDU chief executive Dr Christine Tomkins
MDU chief executive Dr Christine Tomkins

MDU chief executive Dr Christine Tomkins told a Westminster Health Forum event in central London on Thursday that claims against GPs had 'doubled in frequency and cost over the past seven years'.

Although only one in six cases succeed, the impact on morale was significant, she warned - urging the government to take action to stop the 'compensation crisis' facing the health service.

'Claims over £10m are no longer unthinkable, and GPs can now expect a claim every 10 years,' Dr Tomkins told the conference.

Medical negligence

'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.

'The worsening claims environment does not mean there is any deterioration in clinical standards,' she added. 'Quite the opposite: the cause lies in the legal environment, which doctors can’t control.'

Plans for state-backed GP indemnity - due to take effect from April 2019 - will have no impact on the overall cost of compensation, Dr Tomkins warned - the cost will simply shift to the taxpayer.

'It won’t address the root cause of the rising cost of compensation claims,' she warned.

Legislation

Dr Tomkins called for the repeal of 1948 legislation that drives up payouts by factoring in the cost of private healthcare.

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 This should be repealed, boosting NHS funds for the benefit of all patients.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

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