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Over a century of service

MPS Medical Director Dr Priya Singh pays tribute to the cornerstone of MPS’s longevity – quality of service to members.

This year marks the 120th anniversary of the founding of MPS. This section of Casebook looks back at how MPS has responded to member needs and legislative changes over this period by adapting and transforming services to become the world’s leading medical defence organisation.

It is this commitment to service that I believe is the foundation on which MPS has been built. From the very start, as the London and Counties Medical Protection Society, the ethos has been focused on putting members’ needs first, reflecting members’ values and ensuring a personalised, proactive and professional service.

MPS is committed to providing the breadth of assistance that anticipates members’ needs throughout a career and an indemnity that offers the best possible protection from the costs of clinical negligence claims. Together with the security offered by MPS’s financial strength, this is a potent combination that gives confidence that MPS will be there for you when you need us, with the voice to protect and promote the interests of members and the wider profession.

From the very start the ethos has been focused on putting members’ needs first, reflecting members’ values and ensuring a personalised, proactive and professional service

The development of education and risk management tools has been designed to help avoid problems occurring and the collective expertise of MPS is now available to members in an unparalleled range of publications, workshops, e-bulletins and conferences, reflecting more than a century of experience.

As a mutual, not-for-profit organisation, MPS is owned by and accountable to members; your subscriptions do not go to shareholders or commercial partners – the mutual fund is there to provide the best protection for you. This financial strength has enabled MPS to remain independent: here solely to meet members’ needs long into the future.

120 years of MPS

On 1 May 1892 the London and Counties Medical Protection Society was formed. Sarah Whitehouse looks back at 120 years of providing indemnity for doctors.

In the 19th century, before medical defence organisations were established, local groups of doctors would subscribe to each other’s legal costs to challenge defamation cases – in essence, working as local defence organisations. With membership costing around a guinea or less, this informal arrangement suited doctors whilst issues could be settled cheaply and easily.

As legal costs and the value of claims began to rise, so too did the public’s expectations of the medical profession. In 1858 the Medical Act laid down the basis for a minimum standard of medical education, leading to the formation of the General Medical Council (GMC).

Amidst this evolving medical backdrop, 1885 saw the birth of the Medical Defence Union, a national rather than local organisation. But the union’s turbulent early years, plagued by accusations of irregularity and lack of accountability to members, resulted in a breakaway group forming an alternative defence organisation; the London and Counties Medical Protection Society. The rest, as they say, is history.

Led by the surgeon Sir Jonathan Hutchinson and doctors George Heron, George Mead and Hugh Woods, the new society aimed to “support and safeguard the character of legally qualified practitioners and to advise and defend members when attacked”. The society went from strength to strength.

By 1894, the London and Counties Medical Protection Society had grown to 1,000 members – with an annual subscription rate of ten shillings. Premises were taken in Sloane Square, London, and Le Brasseur and Oakley were retained as solicitors – the start of a lasting association, as the firm’s successor, Radcliffes LeBrasseur, remains one of MPS’s panel law firms today.

Until 1910, MPS only bore its members’ own legal costs, which could cause serious hardship for members if there was an adverse outcome. In 1911, MPS purchased collective insurance for members, to fund adverse costs and damages up to £2,000 for any individual member and up to £20,000 in any one year, at an additional cost of ten shillings.

The new society aimed to “support and safeguard the character of legally qualified practitioners and to advise and defend members when attacked”. The society went from strength to strength

By 1935, some hospitals and authorities had made membership of a defence organisation a compulsory pre-requirement to employment, which boosted MPS membership, and in 1939, MPS launched the Overseas Indemnity Scheme to afford protection to members practising outside the UK.

The “London and Counties” part of MPS’s title was dropped in 1947, but it was still affectionately referred to as “the London and Counties” by older members.

With the advent of the National Health Service in 1948 and the Legal Aid fund in 1950, costs to members began to rise substantially, as did requests for assistance. In 1962, MPS introduced unlimited indemnity for overseas members, resulting in another substantial increase in membership. Schemes of co-operation were agreed with the Medical Defence Association of Western Australia, the Medical Defence Association of Tasmania, and the Trinidad and Tobago Medical Protection Society.

Between 1910 and 1923 MPS handled more than 50 cases of libel, slander and “patients grizzling about their doctors”.

By 1985, MPS had established a general practice advisory board and had expanded its number of medicolegal advisers – dealing with more than 1,000 claims each year. The first £1 million claim was settled in the UK in 1986; a watershed moment in high claims.

Faced with such spiralling costs, an NHS indemnity scheme was introduced in the UK in 1990 to assume the costs of claims against hospital doctors. MPS membership remained strong, however, to ensure that hospital doctors had access to advice and assistance for a range of medicolegal matters not covered by the scheme, and to provide cover for GPs.

The first £1 million claim was settled in the UK in 1986; a watershed moment in high claims

Today, MPS has offices in London, Leeds, Edinburgh, Brisbane, Wellington and Auckland, which provide assistance for more than 270,000 members in more than 40 countries, including the UK, Ireland, Hong Kong, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, and the Caribbean and Bermuda. MPS’s most notable presence outside the UK is in South Africa, where it has been active for more than 50 years.

In the early days, challenges to the medical profession would often arise from quackery. MPS members would act as decoy patients to try and catch those posing as doctors with weird and wonderful treatments. A group of “Hindoo Oculists” boasted of a cure for blindness by excising the ‘skin’ over the cornea. They were driven out after MPS brought a prosecution against them for falsely styling themselves as doctors.

In its 120th year, MPS has chosen to hold its first international conference – Quality and Safety in Healthcare: Making a Difference – which will bring together international experts from around the world to share their knowledge, experience and expertise on quality and safety. With an increasing focus on education and risk management, MPS looks set to remain at the heart of the medical profession for the next 120 years, responding to the needs of members in an ever-changing medicolegal climate.

In 1936, the first action was brought against the estate of a deceased doctor (Rubra Ats Connolly). Damages of £5,000 were awarded to the plaintiff and paid by MPS – the benefits of membership extend beyond the grave.

Timeline

1892 1 May – London and Counties Medical Protection Society forms
1894 – Sloane Square, London, office opens
1947 – Name changes to Medical Protection Society
1947 – First overseas scheme of co-operation (Medical Defence Society of Queensland)
1970 – Leeds office opens in Park Square
1994 – Leeds office relocates to Granary Wharf House
2007 – Brisbane office opens (acquisition of Cognitive Institute)
2009 – Edinburgh office opens
2011 – Wellington office opens.

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