MedCo should be modified to accommodate unrepresented claimants as part of next year’s rise in the small claims limit for road traffic accident-related personal injury claims, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said today.
Issuing a consultation on the future provision of medical reports under the new regime – which bans settling cases without a medical report – the MoJ proposed that MedCo accommodate all claims, including what it estimated would be 5% of cases that would not currently be within its remit.
The plan is to integrate the provision of medical reports into the new IT platform for litigants in person, which is due to go live in a year’s time.
“One of the benefits of this approach is that it will make sure there is both consistency and a clarity of process in obtaining a medical report, as well as ensuring that all reports meet MedCo’s requirements on independence and quality.
“Although the new platform will cater for both represented and unrepresented claimants, the government is not planning to make changes to the process of how represented claimants will access MedCo and manage the process of making appointments to get the necessary medical reports.”
The MoJ said it had considered “alternative solutions”, but these would likely result in a greater burden for the claimant, whether unrepresented or not.
The government estimates that around 400,000 claims will be affected by the new regime, and is assuming that around two-thirds will have legal representation, leaving around 150,000 without.
The consultation said that additional experts may be needed in future as there were injuries that would fall within the small claims track that were not soft-tissue injury claims, such as tinnitus, minor types of fractures, dental and psychological injuries.
The MoJ said its initial view was that such experts should go through an accreditation process, but that it should be “tailored effectively, so that the content is relevant to them”, rather than the 30-hour online training scheme currently employed.
“This would be more time and cost-effective and would be achievable within the timeframe available before implementation.”
An alternative approach, it continued, would be to not add new experts, but to allow the types of experts who could currently register on MedCo to carry out both soft tissue and non-soft tissue related initial reports, with the ability to recommend whether an additional specialist report was required.
“One of the benefits of this approach is that, since there are already a sufficient number of skilled experts registered and accredited on MedCo to carry out this work, the majority of the injuries likely to be encountered over and above standard soft tissue injuries, are likely to be of a type which GPs and A&E consultants in particular are likely to come across on a regular basis.
“However, under this approach, there is an issue about the process of obtaining a specialist report, which is likely to be outside of MedCo’s remit. Additional guidance and sign-posting may be required, which may add to additional complexity and cost for the claimant.”
The MoJ also sought views on whether osteopaths and chiropractors should be added to the list of experts permitted to provide reports through MedCo.
The consultation asked whether the current fixed recoverable cost of £180 should be applied to all reports under the new regime.
“The main argument against extending the current FRC regime for non-soft tissue injury claims is that it might prove difficult to find experts willing to provide these reports, if the cost is fixed at a particular sum irrespective of the level of work required to produce the report.
“In addition, the cost of registering with MedCo might make it uneconomical for some experts.”
The MoJ proposed to retain the current MedCo model of providing a randomised list of medical report providers, “but with proportionate and necessary changes to meet the specific requirements of unrepresented claimants”.
It indicated that this would include fewer choices of medical reporting organisations and direct medical experts than represented claimants receive.
“It may also be necessary to develop standardised service level agreements to provide reassurance as to the quality of service from the provider they select.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Our consultation on the new system for submitting medical reports will help ensure claimants are at the heart of the process, and we welcome all views.”
Martin Heskins, executive chair of the MedCo board, said: “MedCo welcomes the opportunity to be consulted on these important issues. Since the beginning of 2019 we have been considering various options for the future of medical reporting that will provide a simple and efficient service for unrepresented claimants and puts all claimants at the heart of the process.
“Our main aim is to ensure that all claimants are provided with a medical reporting service of the highest quality.”
Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of the Association of Consumer Support Organisations, said MedCo has already made clear that its members need at least 12 months to prepare fully for the post-reform world, including the implementation of the portal in April 2020.
“The timing of the consultation – coming so late in the day – adds to our concern that the government will implement a complex system that is not ready and risks customer detriment.
“We urge ministers to provide more clarity to the industry about the progress of the portal. The Brexit process and article 50 has made it abundantly clear that it is prudent to set deadlines on the back of a plan, rather than make the plan after setting an artificial deadline.”