In its Annual Report for 2014, which has just been published, the MDU revealed that the current adversarial climate led to a record number of members asking for support.
In addition to clinical negligence claims brought against members during 2014, the MDU helped its medical and dental members with over 14,000 new cases opened for other medico-legal issues, which was a record. Cases ranged from supporting members with complaints, disciplinary procedures, GMC and GDC enquiries, coroners’ inquests, criminal investigations and legal and ethical incidents in their clinical practice. Meanwhile, the MDU and DDU websites had over 2.6 million page views during 2014 from more than 370,000 visitors with ‘complaint’ being the most searched for term in the guidance and advice section – perhaps a reflection of the current climate facing doctors.
Dr Christine Tomkins, MDU chief executive, said:
“2014 was another extremely busy year for the MDU. There were more claims against our members and increasing activity in the regulation of healthcare professionals. At the same time, taking the GMC’s fitness to practise findings as a marker, there is no evidence that clinical standards have deteriorated in any way.
“The truth is there are many and various reasons why patients bring complaints and claims and it has never been easier for them to do so. In this climate of criticism, it should not be overlooked that the overwhelming majority of care delivered in hospitals, GP practices and dental surgeries is excellent. It’s also important to realise that while the number and costs of claims are increasing each year, almost 80% of medical claims notified to us are successfully defended.”
Another disturbing development in 2014 was the introduction of two Bills (now enacted into law) that risk increasingly criminalising medical practice.
Dr Peter Williams, the MDU’s chairman, explained:
“We anticipate the new criminal offence of ill-treatment or wilful neglect will result in more unnecessary criminal investigations into the conduct of healthcare professionals, although full prosecutions will be rare. Coupled with the introduction of the statutory duty of candour for healthcare organisations, we are seeing an increasing willingness by policymakers to criminalise poor care. This is despite the paucity of evidence of the kind of neglect or lack of candour that the laws are intended to address.
“Of course bad practice should be eradicated, but criminalising it will, we believe, only serve to erode trust in the health professions.”
Dr Tomkins continued:
“The rise in challenges to clinicians inevitably places serious professional and personal pressure on doctors and dentists who are called to account. We are here for our members 24 hours a day and we have extended our core opening hours for routine enquiries along with taking on more medico-legal and dento-legal advisers, claims experts and solicitors to ensure we are there to guide, support and defend our members when they need us most.”