An outdated and adversarial legal system is leading to doctors and patients having to endure considerable stress and anxiety caused by medical negligence claims, yet few succeed, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has said.

The MDU, the UK’s leading medical defence organisation, made the comments as it revealed in its Annual Report for 2016 that it successfully defended 85 per cent of medical claims that closed last year.

Dr Christine Tomkins, MDU Chief Executive, commented, ‘Despite the financial, professional and personal pressures on the NHS and on our members, UK doctors continue to provide standards of care amongst the best in the word for their patients. Given this it may surprise many to know that numbers of claims against doctors remain high. We are still seeing far more claims than we did in 2012 and the proportion where the doctor’s actions were not negligent has also risen. This doesn’t serve anyone well – doctors or patients.

‘The costs for the MDU of carefully investigating a case and satisfying the claimant’s lawyers there is no case to answer are significant. On top of that, when we do pay compensation, the size of awards are still rising unsustainably. Claims for £10 million or more are no longer unusual.

The recent drastic drop in the discount rate to -0.75 per cent has made matters very much worse.’

Dr Peter Williams, MDU Chairman, continued, ‘The current legal system has encouraged a dramatic increase in the number of claims being brought against our members and for the minority of claims where compensation is paid, the sums are rising beyond doctors’ ability to pay for them. This has led to some doctors having second thoughts about taking on higher risk activities. Others express reservations about entering specialties where indemnity is so expensive relative to their income. This is worrying, particularly when standards of clinical care remain high and there is rightly more emphasis on risk management.

‘It is abundantly clear that the numbers of claims and size of compensation awards are connected to changes in the civil justice system, rather than to doctors’ performance and professional standards. Change is needed and the MDU is advocating a system that is both fair and proportionate for all parties.’

Dr Tomkins concluded, ‘We continue to work hard to ensure members are not disadvantaged by the current climate. Our 132 years of expertise means that we are best placed to support and defend our members throughout these turbulent times.’