“Spectacular own goal” was one of many bemused if not truly gobsmacked reactions this week on Twitter, in response to the suggestion by AXA Insurance that a MRI scan would be able to confirm the presence of whiplash injury in future whiplash compensation cases.
The suggestion was first made at the recent Transport Select Committee (TSC) consultation on whiplash injury claims and their impact on vehicle insurance premiums, held over two sessions in May and June at Westminster’s Portcullis House, and chaired by Louise Ellman, MP.
Both oral and written evidence was submitted by key representatives from the insurance, legal, vehicle and medical sectors, including a call by Camps Solicitors for a “fairer approach” to be adopted and offering strong support for the compulsory reporting of medical evidence.
A part of the consultation process was to look at the proposed introduction of independent medical panels to improve diagnosis of whiplash injuries and ensure only genuine claims would be allowed to proceed in future small claims cases.
According to the insurance industry, whiplash claims figures have escalated to “hundreds of thousands” with a rise in the number of claimants following vehicle collisions increasing from 518,821 in 2006 to 828,489 in 2011/12, making UK the endlessly quoted “whiplash capital of the world.”
However, the insurance industry admits that “not all of their quoted figures” relate to so called ‘whiplash injury,’ although they suggest that, “ the majority are likely to” and that as many as 7 per cent of whiplash claims are frauds, despite recent Government figures revealing that the number of claims has actually fallen by 60,000 in the past year to a five year low.
Nevertheless, as a direct result of rising whiplash claims, the insurers argue, premiums have increased (by around an extra £90 per car owner) and consequently, AXA, along with many other insurers have been calling for clear evidence of whiplash injury to be a necessary submission for all future claims. To this end, they also suggest that an MRI scan or even an x-ray would provide clear evidence.
Collusion between larger medical agencies and insurers
On 20th May, at one of the Consultation’s concluding sessions, Dr Andre Brittain-Dissont, Managing Director of Medico-Legal Reporting, whose practice runs clinics in Liverpool, Manchester, London, Birmingham, Cheshire and Wigan, submitted written evidence. Included was the statement that, “The gold standard of medical assessment in a personal injury claim should be an accurate, complete, bespoke report by a competent, qualified, independent medical expert..” and “safeguards already exist to ensure the integrity of an independent medical report.”
It was further stated that, “in recent years, collusion between larger medical agencies and insurers has resulted in something of a race to the bottom in terms of doctors’ fees. No doubt as a consequence of this the overall quality of reporting suffered.”
In response to the AXA suggestion over the use of MRI scans, Dr Andre Brittain-Dissont declared on Twitter that MRI scans are of “no value” and x-rays “have no place” in soft tissue neck injuries.
The tweet simply reaffirmed the view of medical practitioners who are still researching the mechanisms associated with whiplash injury and whiplash associated disorders (WAD), and which has been identified by five categories, including where a patient reports, “no neck pain or stiffness and no physical signs such as tenderness or decreased range of motion.”
To date, it has been clearly shown that every individual whiplash claim needs to be diagnosed and considered on an individual basis. Whiplash symptoms can appear in just a matter of hours or several weeks after a car collision with varying degrees of severity.
Because there can be no physical signs of whiplash, doctors and medical staff often have to rely on the victim’s description of their symptoms. Consequently, there is increasing recognition that the cause, symptom and treatment of WAD are more complex than previously accepted, which has led to serious re-examination and debate in medical circles.
Currently, equipment used to assess spinal damage, such as MRI scans, which use magnetic fields and radio waves to provide “a description of the tissues” do not actually register the damage that would help to make a conclusive diagnosis.
It may very well be that AXA may be referring to a new type of MRI scanner currently on trial at a London hospital.
The Fonar Upright Multi-Position MRI uses new technology, which scans patients while they are upright, and according to the results of a recent study, claims to be able to detect the anatomic origins of whiplash symptoms more than twice as successfully than when a traditional, horizontal MRI is used.
As the outcome of the consultation awaits publication, no doubt, the brickbats will continue to be aired on blogs and tweets by all those concerned that eventual government action will reflect the true requirements of the many genuine sufferers of whiplash, who should be the real beneficiaries of any future legislation.