All time high
No, I am not talking about the 1980s James Bond theme (click here), but something that is very close to GPs' thoughts, namely claims for clinical negligence. According to a recent univadis GP News article, "claims of clinical negligence against GPs have hit an all time high, says the Medical Defence Union" (click here). The article explains that "the MDU's Annual Report for 2011 revealed a 56% increase in disciplinary cases against GP and hospital doctors compared with the previous year".
Of course, these figures are deeply worrying and you can be sure the end result will be a rise in our medical defence fees, which are already pretty high. Looking a bit beyond the main story, what does this tell us about our professional standards? Well, as the GP News article clearly states, "there is no evidence of a drop in professional standards", and I think many of us will share that view.
Clearly it is critical that errant and poorly performing doctors are brought to account, and that the public is aware that regulation of medical professional standards are rigorous, transparent and fair. This after all helps to maintain our good name and a reasonably positive public image. However, is there a risk that we could be over-regulated in the near future? It is not easy to achieve the enforcement of high standards of practice without strangling the profession with too many regulations or exposing us to excessive and unreasonable litigation.
At the same time, the public are more and more aware of their rights and how to complain. Moreover, as the univadis article also mentions, revalidation is due to be introduced later this year and GP practice registration with the Care Quality Commission comes into effect in 2013. The net effect is that more support is likely to be needed for GPs and doctors in general, something that costs money. Of course, medical defence unions generally have a good reputation within the profession and, as they are there to help and support us, we should not begrudge them the fees that we pay. It is merely a reflection of the current state of affairs.
But if complaints and litigation rates are indeed rising and continuing to rise, one wonders where and when will it all end? I do not believe anyone has the answer ‑ a worrying prospect for all doctors.
Dr Harry Brown, editor-in-chief univadis
By Dr Harry Brown