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.