The strength of the MDU lies in its members - and that matters more than ever right now, says new MDU chief executive Matt Lee.

Passing the torch

As the new chief executive of the MDU, I'm proud to be leading an organisation that I have been a member of since my medical school days. I'm also keenly aware that I have big shoes to fill - my predecessor, Dr Christine Tomkins, dedicated 36 years to representing our members, including 12 years as chief executive.

During Christine's tenure as the first woman to lead a medical defence organisation, the MDU modernised to compete in a commercial market without ever losing sight of its core purpose of serving its members.

Christine tirelessly championed the interests of the profession, from our fair compensation campaign for much-needed reform of the civil justice system, to speaking out against the excessive number of criminal investigations following adverse incidents. She oversaw the introduction of new MDU services, including our GROUPCARE scheme, a growing range of educational resources such as e-learning modules and our peer-to-peer support network.

And she calmly steered the organisation through challenging times. During the pandemic, for example, we adapted to virtual ways of working while continuing to grow our membership and ensuring member satisfaction levels were at an all-time high.

Being a doctor herself, Christine instinctively understood how members would be feeling in the aftermath of an adverse incident or during an investigation and what they needed from their MDO. And she made sure that the MDU had the expertise and resources to fight their corner throughout, providing one-to-one support, advice and specialist legal representation.

Christine leaves the MDU in excellent shape, something I certainly appreciate as her successor and as a fellow doctor. Like Christine, I was a practising clinician who used to read MDU case histories and think, "That could easily be me." And like her, I joined the staff as a medico-legal adviser back in 2000 after noticing an intriguing job opportunity in the BMJ, quickly realising that the MDU's founding ethos of 'doctors for doctors' made it a special organisation that I wanted to be part of.

Onwards and upwards

The strength of the MDU matters more than ever right now, as the profession is under growing pressure from several directions. The pandemic is the latest wave to hit an over-stretched workforce operating in a difficult environment of constrained resources, changes to medical practice, critical scrutiny by multiple organisations and an increasingly litigious society. Doctors join the profession to help people, but it is critical that they also have somewhere to turn for help and support.

The MDU has been representing doctors through thick and thin for more than 135 years. As a not-for-profit mutual we are wholly owned by our 200,000+ members and answerable to you, not to a group of shareholders. We use your subscriptions to run the organisation, rather than pay dividends, and we use the flexibility of our discretion to assist members in a wide range of situations.

This is not an idle boast. Over the last five years, the MDU has assisted well over 99% of members who sought our help, including providing legal assistance and claims indemnity where needed. Our member guide clearly sets out where we can help and where we can't.

Just last year, around 40,000 members contacted us for advice or support with each having direct access to an adviser who had practised as a doctor or dentist and readily understood the difficulties they were facing. And, where needed, they could also count on specialist legal representation, with an impressive track record of successfully defending 82% of medical claims brought against members and resolving more than 80% of GMC cases without referral to a formal hearing.

Doctors join the profession to help people, but it is critical that they also have somewhere to turn for help and support.

Widening the scope, keeping the focus

In addition to maintaining those high standards for individual members, the MDU has a wider remit to campaign across a range of issues that affect the profession and have implications for patients. In my term as chief executive, we will continue to advocate rational civil litigation reforms to tackle the unsustainable cost of clinical negligence that is draining desperately needed funds from frontline care. And we will work with regulators and government to ensure doctors are treated fairly and not facing multiple investigations by different organisations into the same incident.

We all want to see a no-blame culture where the focus is on learning lessons from mistakes in care, but there is still too much finger pointing at professionals who are doing their best to care for their patients, often in difficult circumstances.

As the UK's leading medical defence organisation, the MDU should always be a strong voice for our members in medico-legal matters. But in the coming months and years I want us to find extra ways to support you in your working lives, from developing new services to speaking out on issues that concern you and your profession.

I would also like to hear your views about the things the MDU currently does well, and areas where we could improve. No matter who is at the top of the organisation, the MDU will always belong to our members. You are our biggest asset and our greatest strength.

How are we doing? Let us know your thoughts here.

This page was correct at publication on 01/11/2021. Any guidance 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.