The government is pressing ahead with the next tranche of whiplash reforms from 1 April 2015, including giving clients a random choice of medical experts, it announced today.
Though the changes mean that solicitors who own medical reporting organisations (MROs) will not be able to use them for their own cases, justice secretary Chris Grayling said it was not his intention to inhibit business.
“Third-party organisations will not be prevented from owning medical reporting organisations, which will of course be free to compete for work on the open market,” he told a motor claims conference organised by the Association of British Insurers.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) received 69 responses to the consultation it issued in September, of which 28 came from the defendant side, 22 from the claimant sector, 13 from the medical sector and six others.
The three elements of the reforms are:
- Introducing an industry-led IT system – called MedCo Registration Solutions – to assure independent commissioning of medical evidence;
- Developing an accreditation scheme for medical experts; and
- Implementing an industry-driven data sharing arrangements to require ‘previous claims’ checks to be conducted – via askCUEPI – on all potential whiplash claimants.
MedCo will have an independent chair and eight other directors drawn from the insurance, medical and claimant sectors. A former senior civil servant will be the interim chair while the permanent chair is recruited. A MedCo website  has gone live today.
The MoJ said the MedCo system will provide users with a randomly selected choice of medical experts or MROs who may be instructed.
“This selection will be filtered to facilitate a search from locally available experts and MROs, and to exclude those experts or MROs with a direct financial link with the commissioner.”
A number of safeguards will be applied, the MoJ said. “First, the system will operate to avoid any individual expert or MRO never being selected. Users may choose whether to search for individual experts or MROs, and will retain a choice as to which of those randomly selected experts or MROs to instruct, with the MRO search offering a choice which will include both national and local providers.
“The system will not operate so as to allocate a share of the available work to a particular MRO or expert – market choice remains an important part of the process.
“Experts without capacity will be able to disengage from the system for as long as they remain unavailable, which, in turn, will mean that those with greater capacity have a further opportunity to establish themselves in the market place.”
The MoJ said it was aware that the reforms may impact on longstanding relationships between claimant lawyers and the MROs or experts they use. But it pointed out that it has been clear on the direction of travel clear since December 2012.
“Such links can go beyond direct financial links, and can include incentives arising out of long-term relationships which have been established between those commissioning medical reports, and particular MROs and experts whom they regularly instruct.”
The government said the impact of introducing random allocation was “justified when set against the strong public interest in removing financial or other conflicts of interest from the system, and providing a more robust evidence base for those who are genuinely injured”.
Experts will have to be registered with MedCo before April, with a period – to be determined – within which they must then become accredited.
If a claimant does not undergo a ‘previous claims’ check, they will be given a second opportunity to do so, but will face costs sanctions if they do not comply and proceed successfully with a claim.