There are 175 medical reporting organisations (MROs) – including 14 ‘tier 1’ providers – registered with MedCo, the government’s system for selecting experts in whiplash cases, it was revealed yesterday.
It had been speculated that there were between 15 and 19 tier 1 MROs, while the overall count is considerably larger than most will have expected.
Speaking at the PI Futures conference in Manchester, Martin Heskins, a director of MedCo, also admitted that it gets “complaints about everything”.
As revealed on Litigation Futures recently, the 14 big MROs have been audited by MedCo, and there “may be some enforcement action” necessary, he said. Auditing of the other MROs has not started.
He also revealed that MedCo has 457 independent medical experts and 1,673 authorised users. There have so far been 199,000 searches resulting in the selection of an MRO, and 19,000 in the direct selection of a medical expert.
Dr Bippon Vinayak, chair and chief executive of Doctors Chambers, said he had “no idea” that there were so many medical reporting companies operating through MedCo.
“This time last year we probably had no more than 20-30 companies which were active to any extent.”
Some of the MROs will be the multiple tier 2 ‘shell’ agencies set up by some of the tier 1s, including Doctors Chambers, however.
Mr Heskins said: “We know that there are problems with the system. There are problems with any new system. One of them was the speed with which it had to be introduced.
“We get complaints about the results. We get complaints about everything. Had there been a pilot, and there wasn’t, we could have adapted it. There are very few problems with system we can change without input from the Ministry of Justice.”
Alongside law firms trying to ‘game’ MedCo, there were also poor behaviours by users, such as a firm of solicitors which insisted on being present at a medical examination, and a medical expert conducting examinations by Skype.
Mr Heskins said MedCo had reported another firm to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, but he cast doubt on the interest of the regulator in personal injury issues. “They are moving away from specifics and leaving things up to the members. I don’t think they are taking this seriously.”
Mr Vinayak said a “vacuum of information” had created fear and he strongly criticised MedCo, arguing that it was unfit for purpose, unnecessary, an “over-reaction and over-engineered.”
However, he said MedCo “had the opportunity to get things right”, but, if it did not, the Ministry of Justice might impose a centralised system of direct management of experts.
Michael Jefferies, managing director of Jefferies Solicitors and a founder of Lawyers Medical Agency, described MedCo as a “complete shambles” that “kills competition” in the market. “I don’t think the signs are good”, he added.
Dr David Pearce, director of Qualitas Medical Services and the Association of Direct Medical Experts, attacked the failure of both the MoJ and MedCo to tackle the shell MROs. “I can’t understand this,” he said. “It has led to a situation where we have over 170 MROs, including around 60 shell companies.”
In a separate development, MedCo launches its system for accrediting medical experts today.