Viewpoint: Fear of legal action is undermining GPs, warns Dr Pallavi Bradshaw

GPs are more likely to be sued than ever before, and this pressure leaves many in the profession anxious or considering retirement, warns Medical Protection Society medico-legal adviser Dr Pallavi Bradshaw.

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw: fear of litigation affecting GPs
Dr Pallavi Bradshaw: fear of litigation affecting GPs

At a time when GPs are already facing immense pressures, including increasing demand, rising patient expectations and complex care needs, our analysis shows that GPs are more likely to be sued than ever before. We echo Dr Chaand Nagpaul’s comments that life as a GP has a punishing pace and intensity

The psychological impact of a claim on a GP and their colleagues cannot be underestimated. The process can cause anxiety and reduce professional confidence that can lead to overly cautious practices. We recently surveyed 600 GPs and 67% told us they were fearful of being sued and, of those, 85% felt that fear impacts on the way they practise.

Fear of litigation is yet another factor in GPs deciding to retire early

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, Medical Protection Society medico-legal adviser

Many GPs are planning to retire or even move abroad and training schemes remain unfilled. We worry that the fear, and reality, of litigation is yet another factor in these doctors’ career decisions. We need to create a supportive and open culture for doctors to learn from errors and to engage positively in the complaints process which may avoid patients turning to lawyers for answers.

And it is not just a problem for GPs but society as a whole; we must have a debate about whether the rising cost of clinical negligence is affordable. It is not unusual for us to see legal costs exceed patient compensation in small value claims – this is simply not right. We want reform of the legal system to ensure that legal costs do not dwarf compensation and the money spent on patient care instead."

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