The government’s proposed 10% cut in fixed fees for doctors’ medical reports on whiplash cases does not go far enough, the Association of British Insurers has said.
In its response to the Ministry of Justice consultation on medical reports and whiplash claims, the ABI called for current fee of £200 for a GP report, agreed by the Association of Medical Reporting Organisations, to be cut by £30 to £170.
The ABI said the proposed figure of £180 would only be appropriate if it included the cost of the new accreditation process for medical experts, which is still to be agreed and implemented.
A fee of £170, under the current process, would “remove most of the referral fee element and still leave a sufficient profit element”.
The ABI said it strongly supported a ban on law firms obtaining reports from agencies which they own or have a financial interest in, currently the subject of a possible judicial review.
The association also called for a cap of 20% on the proportion of medical reports which law firms could obtain from any one agency. It suggested that, in order to achieve true independence, medical experts could be allocated “via an extension to the functionality of the claims portal”.
Craig Budsworth, chairman of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS), said: “It is very difficult to deal with the question of price at the moment, because the accreditation of medical experts is still to be understood and costed.
“If the price is reduced now, the issue will have to be looked at again when the accreditation process is finalised.”
Mr Budsworth described as a “red herring” plans by the Ministry of Justice to prevent law firms owning medical reporting agencies.
“The agency is almost irrelevant; it’s about the expert and ensuring that the expert is independent. If I directly instruct the same doctor time and time again, how would that be caught by the ownership point?”
Mr Budsworth said a better way of tackling the problem might be for doctors to declare where their work as experts is coming from, just as solicitors declare the sources of their work to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
In its response to the consultation, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers said it would be opposed to a cut in fees for doctors’ reports if this resulted in them being less thorough and detailed.
“The question of the fee is really a matter for the medics,” said Brian Dawson, APIL executive committee member and senior partner of Walker Smith Way.
“Our concern is that we want a thorough examination and a detailed report which offers an informed diagnosis. You shouldn’t put cost before quality. It will save money for everyone if there is a decent report, which deals with the issues.”
On the question of whether reporting agencies should be owned by law firms, Mr Dawson said the independence of experts was not necessarily the same thing as the independence of the agency.
“We can understand the potential problem of experts depending on one source of work, but we can also see the benefits of economies of scale and the problems in defining ownership. The best way of dealing with it is through a robust accreditation process.”