Questions & Answers
Your professional reputation is your livelihood.
Protecting that reputation is ours.
What is the Medical Advocates Guarantee?
Complaints against doctors to the Medical Council have become more common. The position was highlighted by the Medical Council Review published in 2015. In the years reviewed (2008-2012 inclusive), there was a 46% increase in the number of doctors complained against to the Medical Council. If that trend continues, within a few years, statistically a doctor will be as likely to be complained against to the Medical Council as to be involved in a road traffic accident. We all carry insurance to deal with the financial consequences of being found negligent in a road traffic accident. Doctors do not have any guaranteed insurance for dealing with a complaint to the Medical Council – nor would insurance be an appropriate solution, as the issue in a complaint scenario is, first and foremost, a reputational issue. When your professional conduct is being questioned, you need to stay in control and appoint lawyers who are solely acting for and in the best interests of you, the doctor.
What’s so serious about a complaint to the Medical Council?
Not all complaints are serious. But it is fair to say that if not handled properly, every complaint has the potential of having serious consequences. All complaints to the Medical Council are investigated in the first instance by the Preliminary Proceedings Committee (“PPC”). The PPC has the power to refer complaints to the Fitness to Practise Committee (“FTPC”), if it is of the view that the complaint raises concerns regarding a doctor’s conduct or performance and is sufficiently serious to merit an oral enquiry.
FTPC hearings are:
- held in public unless the doctor can show reasonable and sufficient cause that the hearing should be otherwise that in public;
- sworn oral hearings; and
- are conducted similarly to hearings before a Court or Tribunal of Inquiry.
If the FTPC makes a finding against the doctor, the Medical Council decides on the disciplinary sanction to be applied to the doctor. The sanction can range from advice to cancellation of the doctor’s registration.
What is the MA Guarantee?
The MA Guarantee is a legally binding guarantee provided by Noble Law Limited t/a Medical Advocates, that if a complaint is made to the Medical Council against a member doctor, Medical Advocates will arrange legal representation and advice to you in dealing with that complaint.
Why do I need MA Guarantee?
All doctors have some form of insurance policy that indemnifies them against professional negligence. In the event of a negligence claim, provided the insurer confirms indemnity under the terms of the policy, the insurer takes over the handling of the claim and appoints a lawyer from its panel to defend the claim. The doctor has no say in the appointment of the lawyer and the legal costs are paid by the insurer. In many instances, a doctor’s professional indemnity insurance does not cover the doctor for any legal or other costs of dealing with a complaint to the Medical Council. Even if it did (and in some instances discretionary cover is offered by insurers), it is not wise to delegate the defence of your professional reputation to an insurance company. If your professional conduct is attacked by way of a complaint to the Medical Council, you need to remain in control of the handling of that complaint and retain lawyers who are directly appointed by you, not by an insurer.
What about Consultant Doctors?
Consultant Doctors are in the highest risk categories for being complained against to the Medical Council. Consultants who rely solely on the malpractice cover provided by the Clinical Indemnity Scheme have no cover at all for complaints to the Medical Council. If you are in this category and you suffer a complaint, you are on your own. The cost of legal representation before the Medical Council will be in the range of €25,000 to €50,000.
Many Consultant Doctors pay large premia for top-up malpractice cover with the MPS. Membership of the MPS does not include any guarantee of legal advice and representation in the event of a complaint to the Medical Council, which is offered on a discretionary basis only. You may have noted that all MPS communications carry the following health warning:
“MPS is not an Insurance Company. The benefits of membership are discretionary as set out in the Memorandum & Articles of Association”.
The discretionary nature of the complaints cover offered by the MPS means that if you are the subject of a complaint to the Medical Council, the MPS may or may not pay for your legal representation. If it decides to do so, it will appoint the lawyers and attach whatever conditions it sees fit to your continued legal representation, and to your MPS membership.
Some doctors who have suffered a complaint or complaints to the Medical Council have had their premia significantly increased and have been obliged by the MPS to join the “MPS Governance Programme” failing which their membership would be suspended or terminated.
We believe it would be far wiser and much less expensive for doctors in this category to divide their Malpractice (Professional Indemnity) Cover and Complaints Cover as follows;
- Maintain Malpractice (Professional Indemnity) Cover with MPS.
- Join Medical Advocates to ensure they have a guarantee of independent legal advice and representation in the event of a complaint to the Medical Council.
The benefits of doing so ensure:
- You have a guarantee of legal advice and representation before the Medical Council in the event of a complaint, rather than being reliant on MPS deciding to exercise its discretion to refuse such legal representation (as it is perfectly entitled to do under the MPS Memorandum & Articles of Association);
- You will have the benefit of your own, independent legal team appointed by you, acting on instructions given directly by you, who are not accountable to any commercial or third party interests. Therefore, you retain ultimate control over the manner in which the complaint is handled on your behalf before the Irish Medical Council;
- Complaints to the Medical Council should not interfere with or complicate your MPS membership,
- Your MPS premium should not be affected by a complaint to the Medical Council.
How much is this going to cost me?
Joining will MA Guarantee will cost you €495 (inclusive of VAT) annually. Your annual payment is tax deductible and will not be increased for a period of two years.
Am I obliged to renew my Medical Defence Guarantee every year?
No, not at all. Each guarantee is for a period of twelve months. If, for any reason, you decide not to renew, you have no obligation to do so.
Why do I need legal representation?
No doctor wants to be the subject of a complaint to the Medical Council. Thankfully, it does not happen on a regular basis, but it is becoming a more common occurrence. The Medical Practitioners Act 2007 introduced significant changes to the structure and composition of the Medical Council and to the manner in which it conducts its business. Inquiries are now heard in public and the FTPC sits with a lay majority. Being investigated by the Medical Council is a daunting and worrying experience. If a complaint is ignored or mishandled, there can be devastating consequences for the doctor, both personally and professionally. In such circumstances, you need the right experts on hand to represent and protect your interests.