The Telegraph reports that dentists are twice as likely to be sued than a decade ago as “no win, no fee” lawyers use “aggressive tactics” to target the profession. The profession is also seeing a stark rise in the number of claims being made in relation to the diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease, as these cases tend to lead to substantially higher payouts - particularly in cases dating back decades.
It’s resulted in indemnity costs for dentists skyrocketing by over 400% over the same period, while their earnings in real terms fell by 35% as the cost of regulatory compliance also soared. It comes as research by Dental Protection, the profession’s biggest legal advisors, found that nine in ten dentists are increasingly fearful of being sued in a survey of 1,500 of its members - with 68% saying it has made them consider their future in the profession.
Raj Rattan, Dental Director at Dental Protection, said: “We know that working in an increasingly litigious environment day in and day out is challenging, and is taking its toll on dentists when they are striving to provide the best possible service and care to their patients. We know that a package of legal reforms to help tackle the rising cost of clinical negligence, and the challenging claims environment for dentists, is long overdue. We are calling on the Government to take urgent action.”
The British Dental Association has warned that a failure to crackdown on US-style “ambulance chasers” is putting health services under strain. Mick Armstrong, chairman of the BDA, weighed in on the row by launching a scathing attack on the methods used by lawyers to chase claims. He said: “Every official report over the decade shows our patients are receiving low risk, high quality care. All that's changed are the hyper aggressive tactics of these ambulance chasers. Dentists are already feeling the squeeze on declining pay and skyrocketing expenses. Our patients do not expect to see funds desperately needed for investment lining the pockets of no win no fee lawyers."
There are now calls for legal reform to tackle the rising cost of clinical negligence - including a ten year limit on when a claim can be made following an adverse incident, and a fixed recoverable costs scheme for clinical negligence claims up to a value of £250,000 to stop lawyers charging disproportionate legal fees.