MDU’s defence success

By Robin Stride

Over eight-in-ten medical claims against doctor members of the Medical Defence Union (MDU) were successfully defended last year, its annual report reveals.

Some 82% of medical claims and 56% of dental claims brought against members were successfully defended. 

The defence body said 83% of GMC cases involving MDU members at the case examiner stage were resolved without referral to a hearing at the Medical Practitioner Tribunal Service. The equivalent figure for GDC cases is 82%.

Dr Christine Tomkins

Writing in the report, MDU chief executive Dr Christine Tomkins says: ‘Settlement rates for our cases in 2020 were just 17% for medical claims and 44% for dental – meaning claimants did not succeed in demonstrating they had been negligently damaged, and should therefore be financially compensated, in 83% of medical claims and 56% of dental claims against our members. 

‘The MDU’s claims team’s excellent outcomes also reflect our recognition that claims against individual members can affect reputations. We know how much your professional reputation matters to you. 

‘We never settle claims for expediency’s sake and members are always involved in decisions about their claims.’

Dr Tomkins, who is retiring this month after 35 years with the organisation, also highlighted a key topic which she has fought hard to try get reformed: the cost of clinical negligence in the UK. 

She said the extent of the problem was laid bare last November when HM Treasury analysis showed provision for clinical negligence claims was now worth £3,600 per household in England, compared to £700 per household ten years ago. 

The scale of the rise in clinical negligence costs did not reflect a decline in clinical standards; the issue was that the medical negligence system was both ‘unfair and unsustainable’. 

Dr Tomkins highlighted disproportionate legal costs as just one notable defect of the current system. 

For example, a significant proportion of the cases the MDU settled for below £25,000 in 2020 saw legal costs paid to the claimants’ lawyers exceed the damages payment paid to claimants by over 500%. 

Dr Tomkins warned: ‘This system cannot remain unreformed any longer. It has multiple defects. We have campaigned for many years for legal reform to address these. 

‘As the true cost of Covid-19 on the healthcare system and the economy becomes clear, the impetus for change grows stronger. I can assure you that the MDU will continue to champion positive reform and encourage the Government to take ambitious action to change and improve the current system, which is destructive and outdated.’

The report shows almost all the requests received from its healthcare professional members for help with medico-legal issues were supported. It provided full assistance, which can include legal defence and claims indemnity, in over 99% of cases in the last five years.

Its expert advisers, who are doctors and dentists themselves, helped with record demand – over 35,000 requests for assistance or advice from members in 2020.