Some worrying clues suggest the online portal’s remit may be widened.
For personal injury lawyers who don’t do whiplash claims, the new MedCo regime is unlikely to have captured attention.
But I’m willing to bet that MedCo is destined for much more than just whiplash – and PI lawyers would be wise to take a closer interest in what is going on with it.
The MedCo portal was rolled out in April 2015, and is now sourcing more than 40,000 medical reports a month. All medical reports for whiplash claims must be provided by one of the registered (and soon, accredited) MedCo experts. MedCo acts as a big lottery spinning drum, mixing the experts up and then spitting out a random selection for the claimant lawyer to choose from.
When the scheme first came in, lawyers complained that they were being served up unknown experts who turned out to be operating from above a kebab shop. But as it progresses - and as some lawyers find new ways of getting around it - it is being constantly revised, and hopefully improved.
Justice minister Lord Faulks certainly seemed happy with the scheme at the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers conference last week, when he said he was ‘pleased’ with what MedCo has achieved in its first year.
So what makes me think it is going to be rolled out more widely?
Well, George Osborne announced last autumn that the government will be abolishing compensation for soft-tissue injuries.
This should have effectively seen the chancellor getting out his sticker gun and attaching an expiry date to MedCo. But actually MedCo doesn’t feel like a scheme with a diminishing shelf life. Quite the opposite: it is being worked on and improved.
Indeed, as solicitor John Spencer pointed out at the APIL conference, it is notable that a review of MedCo’s operation was published in March, with further changes due to implemented as a result.
If it is a scheme about to be scrapped, then why bother? But if MedCo is to be expanded, then it makes perfect sense.
It could be, of course, that compensation will still be available for some types of soft-tissue injury, and that is why MedCo still has a future. But frankly, that seems more than a little optimistic.
Some lawyers have already identified noise-induced hearing loss claims - where insurers complain of a surge in claims - as the obvious next step for MedCo.
But why stop there? There is a realistic prospect that the MedCo scheme will eventually be expanded throughout the fast track – and I am told by one expert close to the scheme that there is no reason why this could not happen; although the government has not given MedCo any indication that this is what it is planning.
So if MedCo were extended for all PI claims up to £25,000, what would this mean? It would be something that claimant representatives would be very concerned about, and rightly so.
A special case was made for whiplash, where claims are of low value, injuries can more easily be faked, and insurers have succeeded in convincing government that there is a costly problem that must be addressed.
But taking away a lawyer’s right to select the best expert for their client - someone they trust, and whom they know has the right expertise and reputation - is a very big deal, and a significant departure from the normal principles of our justice system.
An important concession was made for whiplash claims. But if this proves to be the thin end of the wedge, the impact on claimants will be considerable.
Rachel Rothwell is editor of Litigation Funding magazine
Follow Rachel on Twitter: @LawJourno