Legal reforms aimed at reducing high claimant's legal costs have lead to an increase in claims against doctors, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) explained today.
In its Annual Report for 2013, which has just been published, the MDU revealed the number of claims against its doctor members rose by over 20% and claims against dentists by almost 10% during the year.
Legal changes affecting the amounts claimant's solicitors could expect to be paid were introduced on 1 April 2013. Realising they were going to have to reduce their fees in future, lawyers rushed to take on claimants under the old arrangements which led to a surge in cases being notified to the MDU.
Dr Christine Tomkins, MDU chief executive said:
"2013 was the MDU's busiest year in our 128 year history. We answered over 33,000 calls from members to our 24-hour advice line and opened a record number of new claims files. A major factor in the increasing demand for our services was the surge we saw in the number of new claims against our members. We fully support the legal costs reforms that came in to effect in April 2013, but in the short term we have seen claimant's solicitors rushing to notify claims under the old arrangements, prolonging the disproportionately high costs the legal changes are intended to address.
"Clearly it is important that patients have access to justice if they believe they have been negligently harmed but the system must be fair. We are hopeful that in the longer term the changes will see a reduction in the large sums paid to claimant's lawyers. There is some evidence that this is starting to happen with the numbers of claims being notified against our dental members slowing slightly towards the end of 2013. We hope this trend will continue and spread to medical claims.
"Compensation payments are also spiralling and we are working at government level to effect changes to control claims inflation so damages payments are affordable, sustainable and fair for all parties.
"Our members going through the stress of a medical claim or a referral to the GMC or GDC can come to us for support at a time of tremendous psychological and emotional strain. We have an excellent track record in concluding GMC and GDC cases at an early stage and we successfully defend 70% of medical claims where the doctor is accused of negligence and faces a demand for compensation."