The head of one of the biggest suppliers of medical reports has described government plans to introduce random allocation of experts in whiplash cases as “barking mad”.
Mark Stirrup, managing director of Capita Medical Reporting, said: “We don’t know how random allocation will work.
“There are a lot of small reporting agencies and then there are larger ones like us – we produce 150,000 reports a year. That’s why I think it’s barking mad.”
Under plans outlined by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), lawyers would be required to obtain medical reports for whiplash cases through a portal, currently known as MedCo.
To help ensure the independence of expert reports, the MoJ said in its September consultation paper that a filter would be applied to search results on the portal preventing law firms from choosing MROs with which they had financial links.
However, random allocation had previously been mentioned in a letter from justice minister Lord Faulks in August as the preferred option.
James Dalton, assistant director at the Association of British Insurers (ABI), told delegates at last week’s Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) conference in Manchester that random allocation was a “policy decision” of the MoJ which had been communicated to stakeholders.
“It’s not my decision,” he said. “I certainly support it, but it’s a decision the ministry has taken.”
Mr Dalton said that, for competition law reasons, the name of every MRO must come up on the portal at some point.
However, Mr Stirrup described the MRO world as “like the Wild West”, and said that although Capita was a big company and “has to be seen to do the right things”, some of the smaller companies did not have the same approach to data and security.
Mr Stirrup said he backed the government’s plan of accreditation for expert witnesses in whiplash cases, due to be introduced after the portal is launched at the beginning of next year.
He called for fixed fees, introduced for whiplash medical reports at the start of last month, to be extended to reports for all personal injury cases. He said there were already signs of people charging “inflated fees” for non-whiplash medical reports.
Mr Stirrup added although he supported the principles behind the MoJ’s proposals, he was concerned about implementation.
The MoJ said in August that compulsory accreditation for medical experts would be introduced by the end of this year.
Craig Budsworth, past chair of MASS, said the government believed that the only way to ensure the independence of experts was through random allocation.
“I do not accept it,” he said. “I think work is still to be done on whether it is the correct approach and have raised this with the MoJ.”
A spokesman for the MoJ said no decision had been made on whether a search filter or random allocation was the best way forward, but an announcement would be made before Christmas.