Dr Michael Devlin
Claims for negligence are an increasing hazard for doctors, but so are police investigations and interviews, which can threaten a career. The MDU supports and robustly defends members throughout.
Doctors are the UK’s most trusted profession. Research consistently shows that upwards of 90% of the British public believe their doctor will be honest with them and according to one recent survey, most people would prefer their children to be married to a doctor1.
In spite of this evident public confidence, doctors are now under closer scrutiny than any other professional group. A doctor facing an allegation arising from their clinical practice may be subject to wave after wave of investigations and a variety of intimidating procedures, including the GMC’s, employer’s disciplinary hearings, coroners’ inquests and civil claims, and even police interviews.
In these situations, a doctor needs expert and robust representation and just as important, a trusted source of support and wise counsel. The good news for MDU members is that our record of robustly and successfully defending doctors is better than ever. For example, 77% of members’ medical claims cases closed by the MDU in 2014 were resolved without compensation being paid. In the first six months of 2015, our success rate was even higher at 82%. This is despite a dramatic rise in the number of negligence claims in recent years, which coincides with new claimant firms entering the market. Our success in defending members and their reputations is a powerful indication that the upwards trend is not a sign of declining clinical standards but the changing face of personal injury litigation.
“A doctor awaiting a police interview because of something that happened at work is in an incredibly vulnerable position.”
A civil claim for negligence is an increasing hazard in these litigious times. Fortunately, the chance of a doctor facing a criminal trial during their career is much smaller. However, the number of police investigations and interviews is rising because of a combination of factors. For example, following recent high profile celebrity sex abuse scandals, allegations of sexual impropriety against doctors have also increased, as has the willingness of the police to investigate such complaints. A new criminal offence of wilful neglect is also likely to prompt more investigations in the future, at least until it becomes clearer which cases have a realistic prospect of conviction. Doctors can also, rarely, face allegations of manslaughter.
In this edition of the Journal we meet the MDU’s team of specialist criminal solicitors which was established 15 years ago to focus on these complex and harrowing cases. A doctor awaiting a police interview because of something that happened at work is in an incredibly vulnerable position: disorientated, frightened and totally unprepared for what is to come. They need an expert by their side and being an MDU member means they have access to a solicitor with all the specialist knowledge, experience and resources to provide effective representation and the support the doctor needs. It speaks volumes that the vast majority of police investigations against MDU members do not result in a prosecution, and only about one in four prosecutions handled by the in-house team have resulted in a conviction. Most importantly, feedback from members about the level of service they have received throughout the criminal investigation is hugely positive.
The dedication of the criminal team reflects the MDU’s ethos as a not-for-profit mutual which only exists to serve our members. It is striking when you encounter staff across this organisation to find that they are so motivated by members’ interests. They are willing to go that extra mile whatever their role, for example, whether they are giving advice on the medico-legal helpline or staying late to scan case correspondence so that a claims file is fully up-to-date. I believe this is because we attract the best people and provide the first class training and support they need to excel.
For me, the MDU has always been a vital cause. As a former clinician, I know from personal experience how hard doctors work and the strength of their vocation to help patients. When they and the job they love are threatened, I want them to know that the MDU will be there for them.
Dr Michael Devlin
Head of professional standards and liaison
Michael was an MDU medico-legal adviser for 15 years, latterly as head of medico-legal services, before taking up the new role of head of professional standards and liaison. He sat on the FFLM's academic committee and was previously treasurer, and an examiner for the MFFLM. He has published widely on medico-legal matters, and has significant experience in teaching and assessing knowledge in medico-legal subjects.
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