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Last Updated: Friday, 27 August, 2004, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Medics slam 'money for referrals'
Image of a stethoscope
GPs were offered 175 per referral
Medics have slammed solicitors' offers of money to GPs for referring patients with compensation claims.

It was reported that firms across the UK had sent out hundreds of letters promising money to GPs each time they recommend them.

The British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs expressed concerned that such deals would compromise patient trust in doctors.

The Law Society endorsed it, so long as patients were aware of any payments.

Money incentive

A recent change in the rules governing solicitors in March this year allows them to share fees with third parties.

Lawyers Higgins and Co, from Birkenhead in Wirral, has been offering GPs 175 for every patient they refer to their firm.

That would amount to nearly 10,000 a year if they referred one patient each week.

Firms in Kent, Lancashire, South Wales and Yorkshire are also alleged to have sent out letters outlining similar offers to local GPs.

The British Medical Association said it believed doctors being offered money for compensation referrals was "inappropriate and gives the appearance of a conflict of interest."

Professor David Haslam, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: "GPs are the most trusted professionals in British society.

"This trust stems from their impartiality and independence. Anything that compromises this trust would be to the detriment of patients, doctors and the NHS."

Paul Higgins
It is sometimes in the patients' interests for the GP to go one step further and perhaps recommend that they seek legal advice
Paul Higgins, of Higgins and Co

But the Law Society said there was nothing wrong with this practice, as long as all parties were aware that money had been exchanged.

Edward Nally, President of the Law Society, said: "Before a solicitor is allowed to act, the patient must be informed immediately and in writing by their doctor and the solicitor about the exact nature of the referral fee agreement.

"The solicitor remains bound to give independent advice to the client and to put the client's interest first.

"Any solicitor who breaches the rules will be disciplined by the Law Society."

Trading standards officers in Liverpool have complained to the General Medical Council and the Law Society after a councillor said doctors should be worried about health, not "seeing pound signs.".

Mr Joe Anderson, leader of the Labour Party on Liverpool City Council, told BBC Radio Merseyside: "People have a belief that when they go to see the doctor, the only interest that doctor has is their medical condition or what they want to discuss, not the fact that the medical practitioner can see pound signs before his eyes in relation to how many clients he can pass on to solicitors."

But Paul Higgins, of Higgins and Co, said the scheme added to the role of GPs as a primary carer.

"It is sometimes in the patients' interests for the GP to go one step further and perhaps recommend that they seek legal advice," he said.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Some GPs say it's the worst kind of American-style ambulance-chasing"



SEE ALSO:
Law firm offers cash for patients
26 Aug 04  |  Merseyside
Is compensation culture on the rise?
24 Aug 04  |  Have Your Say
Tories to end 'culture of claims'
20 Aug 04  |  Politics


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