45 users have been suspended from using the MedCo after it was discovered that they had tried to avoid the random allocation of experts, critical to the system. Although 36 users have now been reinstated, it is anticipated that more suspensions will follow. To date, various solicitors have been reported to the SRA as a result.
MedCo was created in order to try and remove any financial link between solicitors and medical reporting organisations (MROs) and promote independence. It was set up as part of the Government's overall crack down on fraudulent claims. The way it works has, in fact, been recently modified to provide solicitors with greater choice than was initially afforded. The deadline for experts to be accredited to be on the panel has also been pushed back for a second time until 1st June.
MedCo considers the recent behaviour by solicitors and MROs, who have been 'intentionally manipulating the search function… to achieve the desired outcome' to be a 'serious breach' of its rules. Some users were seeking to increase the probability of particular experts being produced in a search on MedCo by, for example, repeat searches, when 'searches of general or speculative nature' are not permitted by the scheme and an explanation is required for second searches relating to the same incident. MedCo has 'identified, monitored and investigated' users employing such tactics.
The various experts, MROs and lawyers have been suspended from the service until they can 'satisfactorily demonstrate that their behaviour has changed.'
Despite this news, the impact of the recent restriction on MedCo's operation still remains to be seen. Although there are changes to be welcomed, including changes to MRO qualifying criteria, there are aspects which may not serve to prevent further adaptation of behaviours, such as no obligation for a financial declaration in relation to family links and a lack of guidance continuing in respect of resolving the issue of employee links. Indeed, the recent sanctions highlight the likelihood of further underhand tactics emerging in response to these.