Membership information 0800 225 677
Medicolegal advice 0800 982 766

MPS survey reveals 45% of doctors practice medicine defensively to avoid complaints and claims

04 October 2018

The results of an MPS member survey of over 500 doctors found that just under half (45%) practise defensively to avoid complaints and claims. Over 70% of doctors said the way they practice has changed over the last five years, and more than 80% said they think patients are more likely to submit a complaint now compared to five years ago.

The survey findings and other ethical issues will be discussed at MPS Ethics for All conference which take place in Durban, Pretoria and Cape Town, starting on 6 October. The conferences are aimed at doctors and dentists, and will include presentations on challenging interactions with patients. The conference will cover how good communication is a vital tool to avoid complaints and claims.

Dr Graham Howarth, Head of Medical Services, Africa at MPS said:

“MPS has seen a 57% increase in the number of medical negligence claims reported between 2008 and 2017. It is therefore not surprising that doctors are practising defensively to reduce their risk of receiving a complaint or claim. However over-cautious doctors are not less likely to receive a clinical negligence claim. Most claims arise not because of substandard care, but because of a failure in communication between the doctor and patient.

“The risk of litigation will not go away, but practising defensively is not the solution as it is not in the best interests of patients or doctors to do so. If a claim for clinical negligence is brought against a doctor, they will be asked why they did or did not do something. A defence will not be based on the number of tests they did, but the clinical reasoning behind their actions. As long as a doctor can look back and justify their decision in accordance with a responsible body of opinion, they are safeguarding their practice.

“Good communication with patients, keeping comprehensive medical records, and following HPCSA’s advice that doctors should practice in the best interests and well-being of their patients at all times are the most effective ways to avoid problems arising in the first place.”

The free annual ethics for all conferences take place on 6, 8 and 10 October in Durban, Pretoria and Cape Town. The conference will be chaired by Prof Dan Ncayiyana, Emeritus Professor at the University of Cape Town and former Editor of the South African Medical Journal.

The programme features presentations on:

  • HPCSA processes and legal obligations of a practitioner
  • The claims process
  • Adverse Incidents
  • Burnout and Resilience

For further information and to view the programme click here:



Notes to editors

In June 2018 MPS surveyed 545 doctors in South Africa

For more information contact  (+44) 207 640 5167  or (+44 (0) 207 640 5290)

About MPS

The Medical Protection Society Limited (“MPS”) is the world’s leading protection organisation for doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals. We protect and support the professional interests of more than 300,000 members around the world. Membership provides access to expert advice and support together with the right to request indemnity for complaints or claims arising from professional practice.   

Our in-house experts assist with the wide range of legal and ethical problems that arise from professional practice. This can include clinical negligence claims, complaints, medical and dental council inquiries, legal and ethical dilemmas, disciplinary procedures, inquests and fatal accident inquiries.

Our philosophy is to support safe practice in medicine and dentistry by helping to avert problems in the first place. We do this by promoting risk management through our workshops, E-learning, clinical risk assessments, publications, conferences, lectures and presentations.

MPS is not an insurance company. All the benefits of membership of MPS are discretionary as set out in the Memorandum and Articles of Association.

Leave a comment