Opinion Former Article

MDU says Ombudsman’s clinical standard must be clearer

Responding today to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s consultation on its clinical review procedure, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) said the Ombudsman needs to ensure GP practices are treated fairly and consistently.

Dr Michael Devlin, MDU head of professional standards and liaison said:

“When GPs face an investigation by the Ombudsman they need an assurance that the procedures will be fair and transparent. One area that has proved problematic from a GP’s perspective is how the Ombudsman assesses their clinical judgements. This requires expert opinion and also a test, or standard, against which clinical decisions can be benchmarked.”

Following a case brought by the MDU and another medical defence organisation, the Court of Appeal in February criticised the former Ombudsman’s Clinical Standard as ‘incoherent’ and a ‘counsel of perfection’. The MDU believes the new Ombudsman’s Clinical Standard, published in August, has not addressed the Court of Appeal’s concerns.

Dr Devlin added:

“GPs need to know in advance what overall standard they will be judged by and how that standard will be used by experts. It is not enough to say there should be ‘good clinical care and treatment’ and that relevant standards and guidance may be used as benchmarks. For much of general practice there are no standards or guidance and in many cases where they might apply they are not relevant. It is still necessary to assess what the doctor did in the round and the Ombudsman must define a consistent, reproducible standard that can be understood and applied easily.

“GPs can’t be left to second guess how the Ombudsman’s experts will judge their practice; the Clinical Standard needs to be clear and reflect the reality of general practice.”

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