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Claimant lawyers question independence of ABI whiplash portal

Craig Budsworth [1]

Budsworth: Concerns the accreditation scheme developed “too swiftly”

The Motor Accidents Solicitors Society (MASS) has questioned the independence of the government’s proposed portal for medical evidence in whiplash cases [2], to be funded and built by the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

Craig Budsworth, chairman of MASS, said he would be asking the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) what alternative funding options were considered for the portal, currently labelled ‘MedCo’, and what the arguments were behind the choice of the ABI.

“Given our existing concerns that the balance of reforms has already tilted too far in favour of defendants, we will understandably have questions about how the scheme’s independence will be assured when its structure and operation lies in the hands of one side of the legal debate,” Mr Budsworth said.

Mr Budsworth said he was also concerned by the MoJ’s planned accreditation scheme for medical experts in whiplash cases, due be introduced once the portal is up and running.

“We continue to be worried that the accreditation scheme has been developed too swiftly and without fully understanding the structure, rules and impact of the new scheme,” he said.

“Rules are being drafted without the full knowledge of how the whole process will look. It was MASS’s understanding that the scheme would be funded by the experts themselves through their accreditation fee, but this has yet to be clarified.”

However, Mr Budsworth welcomed the introduction of compulsory checking of previous claims histories by claimant lawyers, based on data supplied by insurance companies.

He said MASS had campaigned for compulsory data-sharing since 2012, which “should have a discernible positive impact on discouraging potential fraudsters from attempting to bring forward unmeritorious claims”.

David Johnson, president of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL), said the forum was “in principle” in favour of further reform of the expert instruction process for whiplash cases to achieve “proper independence of the experts involved and ensuring proper standards of reporting through accreditation”.

He said FOIL recognised that “fundamental changes to the system will need to be carefully thought out, so as to effectively achieve those aims and to minimise the risk of adverse, unintended consequences”.  

Andrew Pemberton, director of Argent Rehabilitation, part of the Parabis Group, said: “The inability to have service-level agreements with providers of choice will potentially drag down the quality of service and prevent claimant representatives from delivering to the same standards they do today.

“An example of this is at Argent we are able to pre-populate a medical expert’s report with data gathered by a telephone triage. This prevents duplication and increases the time available to the expert at the assessment.

“Without these kinds of links the patient experience will suffer and the time taken by GPs, and therefore costs, will increase.”