The same doctors, the same pressures. So what’s different?
Compensation culture. I’m almost bored writing about it, which means you’re almost certainly bored hearing about it. It’s become a by-word for this feckless generation of layabouts and scroungers, shorthand for the kind of something-for-nothing world that exists in the minds of UKIP voters and Daily Mail readers.
The fact that it is mostly based on flimsy statistics and anecdotal evidence is neither here nor there.
But fear not, long-suffering readers, an end is in sight. For this government, going against all natural inclination and past history, has done something that pleases everyone.
Yes, a mere four (almost) years after coming to power, we now have initial talks about a working group that will come up with proposals for independent medical panels to assess whiplash injuries. Truly this is a government of action.
The discussions were confirmed last week after claimant lawyers, defendant lawyers, insurers and doctors sat in a (presumably large) room and thrashed out plans. In general, everyone I have spoken to since has said how well the talks went and how progress is being made.
The issue is fairly clear-cut. The government does not trust doctors currently in charge of whiplash diagnosis to come up with objective assessments. Too many are tied in, they suggest, financially to the claimant or defendant side (usually the former) and produce the kind of results they know the law firms and claims management companies want to hear.
There appears to me little evidence of this, and certainly little in the way of research. And of course the experts themselves are subject to regulation, which must be fairly anaemic if it allows this sort of behaviour to go on.
But I digress. Independent medical panels are literally the government’s final hope of any real changes to whiplash, having ditched plans for a change to the small court limit. Panels are like the green sweets at the bottom of the Quality Street tin once all the good ones have disappeared.
But there’s just one problem: funding. You may have noticed the Ministry of Justice is not particularly flush at the moment, and taxpayers’ cash to pay for whiplash doctors is simply not going to happen.
Similarly, you’ll do well to persuade either the insurers or claimant representatives to agree to subsidising this thing. Both will argue they are stretched as it is and further costs will be most unwelcome.
So who does pay? It appears it will have to be the practitioners, charged an accreditation fee by, one assumes, a body like the General Medical Council. So we will go from medical experts with a financial stake in their work, replaced by medical experts with a financial stake in their work.
And it’s not as if there’s a lorry-load of experts waiting in the wings to perform the work. The experts on these panels will come from exactly the same firms and companies that currently do whiplash work, especially if they require extra financial clout to pay accreditation costs.
In summary, the new medical panels will have the experts, employed by the same firms, under the same costs pressures, faced with the same patients. (It’s at this point a lazier writer than I would bring up the Einstein quote about insanity.) The only obvious difference is that someone, somewhere, will make extra money charging doctors for accreditation.
Meanwhile, the government will pat itself on the back for a job well done and the compensation culture will have been destroyed forever. Won’t it?
John Hyde is a Gazette reporter