Multi-million pound compensation payment claims against GPs and consultants in private practice have soared in a three-fold increase over the last decade, according to the Medical Defence Union (MDU).
Last year the MDU settled 12 compensation claims of more than £1 million and said some GPs now worried that indemnity was becoming unaffordable for them.
In 2005 the MDU settled just four claims over the £1 million mark and only one patient was awarded £1 million compensation from the MDU in 1995.
The medical defence organisation has paid out more than £100 million over the last three years in 36 medical negligence cases that exceeded £1 million.
The highest payout was £9.2 million to a patient rendered tetraplegic following spinal surgery.
In a case involving a GP £8.5 million was paid in compensation and legal costs for a missed diagnosis of a subarachnoid haemorrhage, a potentially fatal unusual stroke caused by bleeding on the brain’s surface.
Dr Michael Devlin, the MDU’s head of professional standards and liaison said there was a disturbing rise in the cost of multi-million pound claims against GPs and consultants.
He said they were not a reflection on clinical standards, which remain high, but rather a combination of economic pressure and “an outdated legal system” with compensation costs calculated on the basis of provide, rather than NHS care.
He added: “The combination in the increase in size and number of compensation claims is leading to a toxic mix in which some GPs say indemnity is becoming unaffordable to them. If doctors are deterred from the profession or from taking part in certain work, that will be bad for the NHS and bad for patients.”
He called for the government to address the “unaffordable cost of compensation”.
“This is the only effective way to relieve the pressure on individual GPs and on the wider health service.”
He said medical claims’ inflation is running at 10% annually, with the size of claims doubling every seven years.
A claim costing £9 million today, could cost at least £18 million by 2020, he predicted.