Revealed: How GPs and lawyers are fuelling our claims culture
Doctors are fuelling Ireland’s compensation culture by actively encouraging patients to bring personal injury claims, an Irish Independent investigation has found.
Our probe discovered some doctors are even recommending particular solicitor firms.
Meanwhile, solicitor firms in turn are directly referring clients to GPs and orthopaedic surgeons to have injury reports prepared.
The undercover investigation found at least seven firms are sending clients to the same orthopaedic surgeon. It also uncovered how:
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:: Some medical reports were found to be “word-for-word”, “copy and paste like” and with incorrect patient names;
:: Solicitors and claimants asked doctors to amend medical reports;
:: Physical examinations for whiplash lasted as little as 40 seconds;
:: One solicitor claimed he’s paying a GP in bulk “for up to 10 medical reports at a time”, but said they “don’t have a special relationship”.
At one stage a reporter was told it was “probably best to leave out” of the medical report that she suffered from back and neck stiffness prior to a “rear-ending accident”.
A solicitor said, “You’re still worth 10 grand” when the reporter asked what happens if she had fully recovered.
The solicitor added: “If you get seven-and-a-half grand into your hand after all expenses… that’s happy days.”
Our probe discovered how some solicitors and claimants are even asking doctors to amend medical reports.
In one case, a firm requested a GP omit from his report how a patient had previously made a number of claims for separate accidents as “it wasn’t relevant”.
In another case, a patient asked a doctor to increase the length of their prognosis.
The Law Society of Ireland says it has no policy in place regarding the relationship between solicitors and GPs, as “issues surrounding the referral of clients to GPs simply haven’t arisen”.
The reporter came into contact with these solicitors and medical professionals after filling out an assessment form on a claims harvesting website.
After filling in a brief description, the reporter received several calls from different solicitors, who all said they would arrange for her to go to named medical professionals to have a medical report prepared.
One GP told the reporter she would get money if she brought a claim for whiplash, and said her case likely wouldn’t go to court as “insurers don’t want the hassle”.
The GP diagnosed her as having whiplash after asking her to do some neck stretches – and issued a sick cert.
During the same consultation, the GP said it would “probably be best not to” include in the medical report that she suffered from back and neck stiffness before the rear-ending accident if this health issue hadn’t been subject of a previous claim.
As well as writing medical reports for solicitor firms, this doctor is also one of 180 GPs on the Personal Injuries Assessment Board’s panel of independent doctors.
The injuries board is Ireland’s independent State body which assesses personal injury compensation. It was set up with the intention of reducing the need for solicitors and litigation.
During the first of two medical consultations, the GP said it would be better to make a claim by going through a solicitor’s firm on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, instead of paying a GP directly for a medical report and making an application to the injuries board.
The GP then proceeded to recommend two solicitor firms.
A spokesperson for the injuries board said its guidelines for medical practitioners acting on its behalf are that “doctors do not advocate for either party [defendants or plaintiffs], and must instead advocate for the medical facts”.
The spokesperson added that the GP was acting as the undercover reporter’s doctor and not on behalf of the injuries board during the consultations.
The Irish Independent attended consultations with three other doctors who did not recommend a solicitor’s firm or encourage the reporter to bring a claim, but they did diagnose her as having whiplash and provided sick certs.
During our investigation, we also uncovered that a number of firms are directly referring clients to the same orthopaedic surgeon.
A source in the insurance industry revealed they are investigating this person’s relationship with certain solicitor firms.
“We are concerned about how some of the medical reports all outline the same symptoms including problems doing the ironing and taking stuff out of the dishwasher,” the source said.
“Some of the reports are almost word for word.”
A personal injury claimant who brought a successful claim told the Irish Independent how he was referred to this orthopaedic surgeon by a firm which contacted him via a claims harvesting website.
“I was genuinely injured and have nothing to hide but I would say the doctor was, let’s say, very encouraging about bringing a claim,” he said.
In response to queries, the Law Society of Ireland said issues around the referral of clients “simply haven’t arisen”.
“Given the lack of difficulty on the topic in practice, there hasn’t been a need to develop a formal policy or protocol,” the spokesperson said.
In its medico-legal guidelines, the Law Society states if a client continues to have symptoms from injuries, the solicitor can advise his client to request their GP to refer them to a consultant who specialises in the relevant areas.
However, the majority of solicitor firms which contacted the Irish Independent via a claims harvesting website did not follow this procedure and instead set up direct appointments with consultants.
When asked if there would be concerns about a solicitor sending all or most of its clients to one particular medical professional, a spokesperson said: “The Law Society cannot speculate on hypothetical cases.”
A spokesperson for the Medical Council of Ireland said: “Medical reports must be factual, relevant, accurate and not misleading.
“Their content must not be influenced by financial or other inducements or pressures.
“You should explain to the patient that you have a duty to the third party as well as to the patient, and that you cannot keep relevant information out of the report.”
The Irish College of General Practitioners wished to clarify it is the role of a GP to give “medical advice”.
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