The government has announced a series of measures designed to strengthen the new panel of independent doctors diagnosing whiplash claims.

In a statement published just before the Easter break, the Ministry of Justice responded officially to last year’s review of the MedCo scheme.

The new portal for sourcing initial medical reports was introduced in April 2015, but has been beset by problems with accreditation training, and the make-up and choice of the medical reporting organisations doing the work.

The MoJ said a number of practices had emerged ‘which had the potential to undermine both the government’s policy objectives and public confidence in the system’.

The review, which closed last September, attracted 93 responses from solicitors, insurers and experts, with general support for more choice of medical experts. Currently solicitors are given a choice of seven MROs, one of which is a larger ‘tier-one’ provider.

Following the review, the MoJ said expert searches will now come up with a choice of two tier-one MROs and 10 from tier two.

Changes will also be made to the qualifying criteria for companies doing the diagnosis.

The government said practices such as registering multiple ‘shell’ MROs on the system must stop, removing potential ambiguities from the process.

New criteria will cover the definition of an MRO to establish the core roles and functions of each one, with a wider application of minimum service standards. This will be finalised following a further survey of stakeholders that will last until 15 April.

The 250 experts - a requirement for each tier-one MRO - will be ‘active MedCo-accredited’ and qualified to prepare initial whiplash reports. Previously, companies were only required to have contractual arrangements with 250 experts, but there was no requirement that they had to be practising.

Tier-one MROs will be required to have a two-year trading history and have a minimum of five distinct clients, with no single client providing more than 40% of its work.

The declaration of financial links between providers and law firms requesting reports will also be subject to tighter control. Companies must show they have had no financial links with law firms in the last three years – up from one year presently. This is to protect against the transfer of ownership to other family members.

Further guidance will also be provided on the payment of commissions or referral fees and how the issue of employees’ links should be dealt with.

The changes are likely to come into force in late summer 2016.

The government said many respondents called for greater regulation of MROs, but the formal response noted this was a ‘complex area’ which will be considered for further action if required.

Nigel Teasdale, the Forum of Insurance Lawyers’ representative on MedCo, said the reforms will tighten up the regime and prevent practices which undermine the system.  

‘The changes to the qualifying criteria and the declaration of financial links should make the rules clearer and reduce the potential for abuse,’ he said.