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Whiplash claims debate focusses on medical evidence and GPs

The big question that seemed to trouble everyone at Tuesday's meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Insurance & Financial Services which discussed whiplash claims was the poor quality of diagnosis by general practitioners. The group heard how there are scripts available on the internet that guide a 'patient' through how to describe the pain so that they can guarantee a diagnosis of whiplash.

However, top-flight medical evidence (from the World Health Organisation) now allows for systematic categorisation of whiplash associated disorders (WAD) but it has so far proved almost impossible to get GPs in this country to use this evidence-based approach. Until this challenge can be met, MPs heard, it will be very difficult to address the problems caused by whiplash claims which, at 1600 new diagnosis a day, far outstrip any comparable country. This is not just a problem for the insurance industry the committee was told by Dr Nick Kendell, who chaired a recent expert medical panel on WAD, but a serious problem for patients. He told MPs that serial ineffective treatments administered as a result of the misdiagnoses can often make the condition worse. It can also mean that a process of claiming for inappropriate compensation delays the delivery of effective treatment.

MPs were also told that on a recent visit to the Thatcham Motor Insurance Research Repair Centre engineers from Volvo were shocked to hear that accidents involving their cars in the UK gave rise to whiplash claims as this didn't happen elsewhere in Europe.

Some MPs were extremely critical of the current situation with group chairman Jonathan Evans highlighting the problem of regional whiplash hotspots and Steve McCabe (Lab, Birmingham Selly Oak) condemning those who encourage false claims: "This is just the latest scam", he said, "It is aided and abetted by two of our most respected professions - the legal profession and the medical profession".

Despite this strong condemnation, Mr Evans said that he did not support the proposal in Jack Straw's bill to ban referral fees which would effectively reverse the burden of proof  for whiplash claims with the claimant having to prove that they are suffering a whiplash related disorder rather than the insurance company having to prove they aren't: "It is a much better option to get better information into the hands of the medical profession than to go down the route suggested by Jack Straw of reversing the burden of proof".

I think the next challenge for the All Party Group in helping to inform this debate before Mr Straw's bill reaches the floor of the House is to engage the medical profession, especially GPs, so that MPs can get a rounded view of the problem.

  
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