I believe that membership organisations should reflect the qualities and values of the people they represent.

Just as doctors are conscientious high achievers who try to do their best for patients, the MDU sets the highest standards in terms of the service we provide, the professionalism of our team and the outcomes we achieve.

As an organisation, we constantly benchmark ourselves in a variety of ways, including stringent performance targets and member feedback surveys and we publish the results on our website and within our Annual Report.

For example, during 2016, we successfully defended 85% of the medical claims that closed that year; more than 92% of GMC cases handled by our in-house lawyers were resolved without a formal hearing; and our membership staff answered 70% of the calls they received within 20 seconds.

PRTA logo

Photo credit:

At the same time, it is very satisfying when our work is independently recognised. For some years, our membership department has been accredited under the Customer Service Excellence Standard which measures our performance in areas like accuracy, timeliness and staff attitude.

And last month, I was proud to learn that the MDU is to receive the Princess Royal Training Award for the way we train and develop our medico-legal advisers (MLAs). We are the first medical defence organisation to receive this accolade and we are one of only 40 organisations to be successful in 2017, from a longlist of 116.

It's significant that the Award acknowledges our MLA training programme because the quality of our medico-legal expertise underpins the MDU's reputation for excellence (reflected in an increase in the number of our GP and consultant members last year). As the UK's largest and oldest medical defence organisation, we currently receive more than 20,000 calls to our medico-legal advice line each year and the advisory team is the first point of contact for members seeking guidance and support.

Our MLAs are qualified doctors with real-life experience of the challenges faced in clinical practice. We build their medico-legal experience with a first-class training programme which equips them with the depth and breadth of knowledge they need to help members with a huge range of legal and ethical problems and which instils the service ethos of the MDU.

Developed and led by senior MLAs, the in-house programme includes a wide range of activities including tutorials on subjects like confidentiality and patient complaints; visits to the coroner's court and the GMC where they can see what members experience; as well as training on practice case files and advice calls to test and develop each person's understanding as well as developing their pastoral skills.

Continuous professional development is part of modern clinical practice and it is embedded in the culture of the MDU as an organisation.

The learning process doesn't end after the initial 12-week programme. We expect all our MLAs to play an active part in training, from leading training meetings to reflecting and addressing their own personal development needs during their annual appraisal. And just as our members revalidate with the GMC, so do all the doctors working for the MDU.

Of course, such continuous professional development is part of modern clinical practice and it is embedded in the culture of the MDU as an organisation. As a practical demonstration of this we had been shortlisted for the first Princess Royal Award in 2016 but fell short on that occasion. However the inspection process and the valuable feedback we received helped us focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the programme and make further improvements. And we will continue to refine our training to ensure it meets the needs of our new MLAs and by extension, our members.

As a former medico-legal adviser, I understand the role goes beyond dispensing good advice and providing effective representation though those are obviously crucial. When I spoke to a doctor in distress, I knew I could easily have been in their shoes because I understood the uncertainties, imperfect information and judgment calls that are part and parcel of medical practice. And it made me determined to ensure members receive the compassionate and practical support that I would have wanted to receive.

This empathetic approach is in keeping with our 'doctors for doctors' ethos and yet another way that we echo the professional principles of doctors we represent.

Indeed, the most satisfying feedback of all is when members tell us how much they value the understanding, reassurance and emotional support they receive from the MDU team.


This article was correct at publication on 22/09/2017. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Dr Christine Tomkins

Chief executive of the MDU

BSc(Hons) MBChB(Hons) DO FRCS FRCOphth MBA FFFLM FRCP

See more by Dr Christine Tomkins