Doctors Are Afraid of Examining Patients in Case They Get Sued

More than a quarter of GPs are reluctant to conduct intimate examinations on patients due to the fear of being sued for inappropriate conduct, new research has revealed.

Some 28 percent of GPs surveyed were hesitant to conduct examinations including those of breasts, genitalia and rectum, fearing allegations of inappropriate behavior.

The survey, conducted by the Medical Protection Society (MPS)—an organisation that defends medical professionals against legal claims—showed that 87 percent of GPs were increasingly fearful of being sued.

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A doctor examines an X-ray. Doctors are fearful of being sued. Creative commons

This fear of legal action has resulted in 84 percent of GPs ordering more tests and referrals, while 41 percent said worries of being sued meant they prescribed medication when it was not clinically necessary.

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, Senior Medicolegal Adviser at MPS, said in a statement: "These survey results raise concerns about how the fear of being sued is manifesting itself across the country.

"Unnecessary tests or investigations are not in the best interests of patients and may use up limited NHS resources.

"Doctors should be able to exercise their clinical skills and judgment without the fear of claims affecting their decision-making."

But a spokesperson for the feminist Women's Equality Party said it was "odd" that doctors felt the need to behave so cautiously.

"The notion that GPs should deny or restrict necessary healthcare treatment from women to protect themselves from potential lawsuits is rather odd," the spokesperson told Newsweek.

"It is of course right that legal recourse should exist for those who are subjected to sexual misconduct by anyone—including medical professionals.

"However, it is difficult to see how a properly conducted examination would be construed as inappropriate conduct."

The MPS surveyed 1300 UK GPs for the research, which also revealed that over two thirds (67 percent) of GPs said the fear of being sued caused them stress or anxiety.

A further 78 percent said worries about having legal charges brought against them impacted on their confidence in how they deal with patients.

An anonymous GP told the MPS: "I now practice in a world where I am frightened at the beginning of each day, and because of this, I am retiring early."

The new study follows research by Imperial College London, which showed that four in five doctors who have been the subject of a patient complaint practise more "defensively."

To combat the issues flagged up in the research, the MPS recommended a range of measures including legal reforms, such as a minimum threshold for cash compensation relating to claims for minor injuries.

The organization also called on the government to undertake research on how the fear of being sued is affecting the U.K., and work with the MPS to develop a common understanding that "medicine is not an exact science and mistakes do happen."

The expectations of patients are rising, according to the MPS, which it identifies as the driving factor for claims.

In a YouGov survey from earlier this year of over 2000 U.K. adults, 33 percent felt they should get compensation when something goes wrong regardless of whether harm was caused, and a further 65 percent said claims for clinical negligence are easier to make now than ever before.