Justice secretary Chris Grayling blundered yesterday afternoon when he announced that medical experts had only three months, from January 2015 to 1 April 2015, to become accredited under the government’s new MedCo scheme.
Mr Grayling said experts “would have to get accredited”, when the MedCo portal scheme goes live in April 2015, or “be removed from the system” – the only source of medical evidence for whiplash claims.
Speaking at the Association of British Insurers (ABI) motor conference 2014, the justice secretary set out the timetable for phase two of the government’s reforms of medical evidence in whiplash cases.
He said medical experts could register for MedCo, the compulsory portal scheme for obtaining medical evidence in whiplash cases from January 2015.
At this point, the justice secretary announced that medical experts would then have “a period of time to in which to gain their accreditation” and that from 1 April 2015 “any experts who are unable or unwilling to obtain their accreditation by the deadline will have their details removed from the system”.
However, a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said later in the afternoon that this was wrong.
The spokesman said that all medical experts needed to be registered with MedCo by April 2015 to give evidence on whiplash claims, but would not be able to apply for accreditation until after this date.
He said that registered experts had at least until the end of next year to become accredited and no deadline for this had been set.
Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Grayling said that, jointly with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, he had invited Law Commissioner David Hertzell to chair a task force to consider the issue of fraud in motor and other insurance claims.
The justice secretary said the task force, which would produce its interim findings by March next year, would look at whether “by legislation or voluntary arrangements” steps could be taken to combat fraud in areas such as household insurance.
He said that if the task force found that “one of the big problems” was the behaviour of claims management companies, he was “very open to taking action on it”.
He added: “We would not have set up the task force if we did not expect something to come out of it.”
Mr Grayling predicted that once the MedCo portal was up and running in April, it would make “very little sense” for the insurance industry to make a pre-med offer before the claimant had seen a MedCo specialist. “MedCo ought to have a significant impact on the level of success for whiplash claims,” he added.
However, Paul Evans, group chief executive of AXA UK and the chairman of the ABI, warned that only a better definition of whiplash injuries against which doctors could assess claims would stop insurance companies making pre-med offers.
“If insurers don’t challenge cases, people will try it on,” Mr Grayling replied. “If you make it easy to defraud you, people will defraud you.”