Justice secretary Chris Grayling has pledged to make provisions to ensure that the new medical panels to assess whiplash claims remain independent.

He was responding to concerns that medical reporting agencies could form alternative business structures with personal injury law firms.

In a letter to Grayling last month, House of Commons transport select committee chair Louise Ellman (pictured) said an ABS comprising lawyers, insurers and medical experts could ‘potentially subvert your attempt to make medical reports on whiplash injuries more rigorous’.

Grayling’s response said the principles of medical panels are ‘not at odds’ with support for ABSs, but he acknowledged some safeguards must be put in place.

‘Clearly we have to come up with arrangements that address concerns around independence, particularly where [a medical reporting organisation] is owned by, or associated with, an ABS, ‘ said Grayling.

‘As a minimum, financial links between organisations involved in the claim process should be open and transparent.’

He added measures would be put in place so experts are paid ‘on completion of the report and regardless of the outcome of the claim’.

The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that a working group made up of lawyers, insurers and representative bodies has met to begin the process of creating medical panels.

The plan is now to create proposals for the medical panels, focusing on claims below £5,000, by July.

Ellman said her attention was first drawn to the issue of ABSs offering whiplash diagnosis during the committee’s call for evidence on the claims system.

Defendant firm Keoghs questioned how the government would deliver ‘truly independent and accredited medical evidence’. 

Its evidence added: ‘The Legal Services Act allows ABSs whilst LASPO bans referral fees. The government now wishes to dismantle relationships between law firms and their owned medical agencies. We see competing legislation/strategy here.’