Review of 2013: a claims handling perspective

By Claire Loveday

It is often illuminating to look back on past events. This article examines some of the different types of claim or medico-legal query we received in our Claims Handling Unit (CHU) or out-of-hours service (Mills & Reeve First Response) during 2013, not all of which related to medical negligence claims. Even where negligence was an issue, the enquiries did not focus entirely on the treatment provided. A review of the year has highlighted a diverse range of issues that arose and we present some of them here.

Alleged (and actual) defamation of doctors by patients, and on occasion defamation of doctors by other doctors, was a recurring issue. Throughout 2013, we received referrals where patients had, for example, used social media, sometimes anonymously, to express their dissatisfaction with treatment outcomes, sometimes making direct criticism of the surgeon. Our assistance in these cases involved practical, as well as legal, guidance. For example, we suggested approaching website owners to have such comments removed and even ignoring such comments (as responding merely invites further comment from the patient or other social media users). We also advised a group of surgeons and ensured a well-known mainstream broadcaster changed its planned programming to omit parts of a documentary. It would have been unfair and prejudicial in circumstances where, due to issues of doctor-patient confidentiality, the doctors concerned were unable to respond to enquiries made of them. In particular, they could not even to confirm or deny that the patients featured in the broadcast were their patients.

A point to be aware of is that professional indemnity policies of insurance do not always cover defamation risks, and where they do there may be limitations on cover. Therefore, if a doctor or other medical professional wishes to pursue legal redress this may need to be done privately…

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