Anyone who has been injured or has lodged an action for damages following a motoring accident may well be interested in the latest development in the ongoing whiplash fraud farrago. The government’s flagship scheme for reducing whiplash fraud has suffered yet another setback with a key element delayed by a further three months.
The Ministry of Justice last week announced that it has extended the accreditation deadline for medical experts signing up to the MedCo scheme – a scheme much-criticised by the medical and legal professions.
The latest setback developed earlier this month when doctors who had not yet completed the full accreditation programme were told to start their training again, following a change of provider to MedCo. When the contract was awarded MedCo had said the existing 6th April deadline, after which only accredited experts could write whiplash reports, was still achievable. However, the government was warned that with just 132 experts accredited less than a month before the deadline, it would face a shortage of experts to diagnose soft-tissue injuries if the issue was not resolved. The deadline has now been moved back to 1 June, creating another delay to the flagship scheme which was confirmed way back in December 2014.
Commenting on the latest delay, MedCo said in a statement it had received a number of enquiries about the interpretation of the scheme, and in particular whether experts can provide a valid medical report if they were instructed before the accreditation deadline. The company took this issue to the MoJ, together with experts’ concerns about successfully achieving accreditation by 6th April due to changes to the training programme. The statement said the master of the rolls, Lord Dyson, has agreed to the extension, and MedCo wished to publicly thank the MoJ and Dyson for their response.
Why are both claimant and insurance lawyers unhappy and dissatisfied with the current state of affairs? Well, MedCo was founded on the principle that experts should be independently accredited and have no financial link to lawyers instructing them. However, the government-backed scheme has already been accused of ‘limiting a claimant choice.’ The Ministry of Justice made a call for evidence back in July, amid reports that medical reporting organisations were ‘gaming’ the contracting process by registering multiple entities to ensure market share.
In its submission to the ministry, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) blamed the scheme’s problems on the lack of ‘audit and accreditation’ of firms before the online system went live, and urged the government to carry out a ‘robust and complete audit’ of MROs registered with MedCo, stating:
‘Problems are arising because medical reporting organisations (MROs) are being permitted to “self- vouch”, with no checks in place to determine whether they actually comply with the criteria.’ APIL also claimed that MedCo involves a ‘retroactive step’ in the adoption of new technology. Previously, it said, MROs could invest in IT to make the instruction of an expert and obtaining a report easier for the solicitor. Now, however there is little point in larger MROs investing in technology to stand out from the competition as the instructing solicitor has no choice of which MRO they use:
‘As well as skewing the market and halting competition, MedCo as currently set up, will stop innovation amongst medical reporting organisations, and will lead to a decline in quality of service,’ it said.
In its submission, international firm Kennedys, which acts for several leading motor insurers, had called for more transparency in the scheme to reveal which law firms were instructing which experts in order to break the financial links between solicitors and experts/ MROs. Niall Edwards, partner and head of Kennedys’ motor practice, said at the time:
‘Until we have proper audit procedures in place and good management information, the danger is that unhealthy behaviours will go unaddressed. Like any system, the more complicated it is, the greater the risk that ways will be found to undermine its objectives and create undesirable effects. MedCo needs to be kept simple and have a mirrored auditing procedure in place.’