David Pranklin, head of the MDU's claims handling unit, reflects on the last seven months and how his team has adapted to continue supporting members through challenging times.

The MDU's claims handling unit (CHU) is comprised of an experienced multi-disciplined team of claims professionals, all of whom are motivated by providing the best service that we can to our members facing a claim for compensation.

At the time of lockdown earlier in 2020, about a third of the MDU's claims staff worked at home and the remaining two thirds worked from home one day a week. Overnight, and with the fantastic support of our IT department, we were able to get everyone working from home, providing a seamless service to members.

When dealing with a claim, it is key that we establish a relationship of trust with our members. Claims can be very stressful and may take several years to resolve, and it is absolutely essential we involve members at each stage to ensure they are fully informed and supported throughout.

Most claims are defended without a payment of damages, but when a claim needs to be settled, we cannot do that without member consent - hence the importance of that relationship.

In many cases, written correspondence or a conversation over the phone is sufficient, but it is very often necessary to meet with members. That would usually entail inviting members to travel to either the MDU's office in London or to an office of one of our panel solicitors for an initial meeting, and later, if necessary, to attend a conference - sometimes more than one - with a barrister.

Like the rest of the world, we have instead used a variety of video conferencing platforms to make sure we can maintain that personal level of service, albeit remotely. It isn't quite the same as meeting in person, but our experience, and that of members, has so far been largely positive.

Unexpected benefits

We have always recognised how difficult it can be for members finding time in their busy professional and personal lives to attend meetings, but without the need to travel we see a significant benefit to members with remote meetings.

Conferences with barristers were often even more of a challenge when trying to get a date and time that both the member and all of the expert witnesses could attend, and frequently we would have some experts meeting in person and some over the telephone, which was never ideal. Having everyone connecting remotely by video in our experience is a significant improvement.

Since the necessary closure of our office, we have also seen a move to all correspondence being sent via email. Again, we see that as a significant improvement in our service to members, enabling us to respond more quickly when a claim is first notified and throughout the life of the claim.

Since lockdown was lifted we have continued with remote meetings. We are very much aware of the challenges facing members in continuing to provide care to patients in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, so it is very important to us that we support our members to be able to do that safely, and for our staff to able to work in a safe environment too.

MDU app

Business as usual?

We also recognise the importance of continuing to progress claims. The pandemic has inevitably caused some delays - for example, in obtaining clinical records, arranging for claimants to be examined by experts and trials being adjourned - it has largely been business as usual. The vast majority of claims are resolved without the need to go to court and we have continued to successfully defend most claims. For those claims that need do to be settled, we have done so, again frequently making use of video conferencing.

We have recently had our first post-lockdown trial, in which we successfully defended a GP member. In that case the court gave the parties the option of a remote hearing or in person, but on the basis that there were no safeguarding issues, the trial went ahead in person, and we have another trial listed in November. It's encouraging to see the courts offering greater flexibility to ensure claims are progressed.

Clearly as we face the end of the year and the prospect of further restrictions, the so-called 'new normal' is going to be around for some time to come. Once we are through the pandemic, we will continue to provide the high quality service that our members have come to expect, and we think remote video meetings with members and other parties will continue to play an important part of that. However, there are some circumstances where the experience of seeing someone in person can't be fully replaced, and we look forward to being able to meet our members again in the not-too-distant future.

This page was correct at publication on 21/10/2020. 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.