MDDUS: Being there

What do doctors and dentists want from a defence organisation? CEO of MDDUS Professor Gordon Dickson highlights results of a recent survey and the broader implications.

  • Date: 04 January 2010

A letter awaits you one morning at the surgery with the return address of a local firm of solicitors. You open it to find that a patient in your practice is alleging negligence. Anxious over the matter you press on with the morning’s consultations. Later you take a break to phone your defence organisation. The last thing you need at this point is to have to work through a menu of options and sub-options, only then to have to listen to some ‘musac’ until a real person responds.

No one just decides one morning to phone their defence body. If you phone MDDUS we take the view that you need to speak to an experienced medico- or dento-legal adviser as soon as you can – and so you should.

MDDUS has long been aware anecdotally of what our members and healthcare professionals in general value most in a defence organisation but recently we decided it would be helpful to gather some real evidence on what services and benefits doctors and dentists value and expect. We commissioned a survey through the independent market research agency, GfK Healthcare.

A total of 690 randomly selected doctors and dentists across the UK (unaware that we were prompting the survey) were contacted online. Among a number of questions, the survey asked participants to rate 14 listed services/benefits in terms of their usefulness on a scale from one to ten. Unsurprisingly, fast and prompt ‘response to phone enquiries’ was rated highest, even higher than price. This goes back to the scenario above and the comfort and peace of mind members derive from their membership. When you need to speak to us, we need to be there to provide that prompt response. In the last twelve months we have dealt with over eight thousand advice calls – and this was in addition to the twelve thousand calls made to our membership line.

In a broader sense, thinking about the Union as a whole, what we draw from this result is that when it comes to selecting and remaining with a defence organisation, quality of service is of prime concern. Cost, while seen by those responding to the survey as less important, cannot however be ignored and at MDDUS we pride ourselves on combining quality and price to offer what we believe to be excellent value for money to our members. The survey confirmed that the pursuit of an ever-improving value-formoney service should be the continuing goal for MDDUS.

Responding to growth

Over the past few years the Union has been successful in steadily increasing its membership as doctors and dentists throughout the United Kingdom recognise the value offered by MDDUS. The number of members in active practice has grown by over a third since 2000.

This growth does of course lead to an increase in the number of professionals using our services, in particular our telephone advice line. We do encourage members to call for advice, as the earlier advice is sought the more likely it is that preventative or riskreducing steps can be taken. The challenge to the Union is to ensure that we continue to meet member expectations in terms of speed and quality of service as we continue to grow. To do so we have over the past year appointed three new staff to our medical advisory team in Scotland, as well as three new members to our team of dental advisers.

But the majority of our growth has been outside Scotland and this is perhaps inevitable given the very strong position we have always had and continue to enjoy in Scotland. The number of GP members outside Scotland, for example, has more than doubled since the year 2000. In response to this growth, we have also recently appointed three new medical advisers to be based in our London office to work alongside our existing London legal team. Policy on healthcare delivery and the mechanisms for providing care, particularly primary care, are now quite different in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK and we recognise the importance of having advisers experienced in the different systems.

All of the new advisers are experienced medical or dental practitioners who bring a deep understanding of modern practice and the pressures and challenges being faced on a daily basis by our members. To accommodate the new staff and allow for further growth the Union’s London office will be moving to larger and newly refurbished premises at 1 Pemberton Row in early 2010, not far from our current offices at Bell Yard. Extra meeting and seminar rooms will also allow for expanded MDDUS educational and training activities more convenient to members in southern England.


Growth by itself has no particular merit but controlled growth leading to increased financial benefits of scale and greater presence, with the consequent influence we can exert for our members, are all valuable. The need to maintain steady growth and remain responsive to the needs of existing members at MDDUS is reflected in some changes to our marketing department.

MDDUS has appointed three new marketing staff to spend more time in medical and dental schools, GP and dental practices and hospitals. They will meet and talk with existing and prospective members in order to keep in touch with changing needs and concerns, as well as promote MDDUS. It is particularly important to be out among students and trainees, as they represent the future membership of the organisation. We also continue to fund a teaching post in medical ethics and law, based at Glasgow University but working with all medical schools in Scotland.

Another way of reaching different segments of the membership is through targeted publications. The MDDUS flagship publication is Summons but we also now publish two additional magazines. FYi is a bi-yearly publication for Foundation year medical trainees and final year medical students. In December we also launched a new publication called Practice Manager with news, features and practical risk advice directed at primary care managers. Next year we plan to launch two additional magazines aimed at trainee dentists and specialist trainees in general practice.

Member satisfaction

One particularly gratifying result from the survey was in regard to overall member satisfaction. Respondents who were members of a medical or dental defence organisation were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how satisfied they are with the ‘services/resources’ provided. MDDUS scored higher than the average satisfaction levels among members of both of our two main rival medical defence organisations.

I am sure that the doctors and dentists who founded the Union over 107 years ago would hardly recognise the medical and dental world of 2010. But the need that they identified for a body offering sound advice and access to protection is as clear today as it was at the start of the last century. Our belief in the mutual principles that were at the very heart of the Union in 1902 is as strong now as then. As a mutual organisation we serve no other master than our members and they deserve the highest possible level of service, a service that is prompt in its response and competitively priced. We take our continuing growth as a modest sign that we are moving in the right direction.

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Read more from this issue of Insight

Insight (formerly Summons) is published quarterly and distributed to all MDDUS members throughout the UK. It provides a mix of articles on risk, medico-legal and regulatory matters as well as general features and profiles of interest to our members. Browse all current and back issues below.
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