Physiotherapy staff should consider having criminal defence insurance to cover them in the event of serious allegations, which could result in legal costs and loss of income.
This was one of the key messages from Sarah Daniel, a Consultant Neurological Physiotherapist and an Expert Witness for Medico-Legal Reports.
She was speaking during a conference for the Medico-legal Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (MLACP) in London on 24 November.
Ms Daniel, who is also an MLACP committee member, said: ‘Physiotherapists are becoming increasingly vulnerable, because of a rise in compensation culture, where people complain about all sorts of things – which may or may not be true.
‘You could face a sexual allegation, or you might be accused of stealing money or jewellery during a home visit.
‘But it’s important that all physiotherapists – those in the NHS and the private sector – are aware that professional indemnity, which the CSP provides, and public liability insurance do not cover criminal allegations.
‘A lot of physios might assume they are protected by the NHS, but they aren’t.’
Delegates heard that criminal defence insurance is an additional policy that physiotherapy staff can take, with cover costing between £20-£30 a year.
Ms Daniel presented a case study of a CSP member who experienced mental health issues and has been unable to work for more than a year, since a patient made a criminal accusation against them.
The physiotherapist faced criminal proceedings and was subsequently acquitted by a court of law. But 18 months later, the physio is still unable to return to work because the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is conducting its own investigations into the case.
‘The HCPC does not use the same standards as the justice system, so you have to be prepared to prove your innocence to them as well,’ Ms Daniel said.
Top tips to protect yourself
Ms Daniel gave some suggestions about what physiotherapists could do to protect themselves from allegations, as well actions to take if they did find themselves accused.
She told delegates to
- ensure all your documentation and your CPD is up to date, as this may be the only evidence you can provide about your competency
- make sure you have completed any mandatory training and are aware of chaperone policies
- document anything unusual that happens in a treatment session and keep a clear audit trail
- follow up conversations on the phone with patients/clients with a letter, and consider copying in a third party like their GP
- if you face an allegation, contact the CSP for support and advice
- collect statements from colleagues who were present, or nearby, at the time of any alleged incident, as police may not collect these
- ask your manager or colleagues to photograph the treatment room where any incident is alleged to have occurred, as police may not visit the location and the layout of the room could be important to your case
- never say anything to the police unless you have legal counsel present, as your words might later be used against you in court