We must know if physiotherapy works for whiplash injuries. The industry must fund research, says Michael Faulkner

Are insurers throwing money away on personal injury claims? They may be. Insurers have spent millions of pounds on a treatment that has not been proved to be effective.

The treatment in question is physiotherapy for whiplash injuries.

Each year, over 400,000 people suffer from whiplash or associated disorders following road accidents. The ABI estimates that the cost to the industry of dealing with these claims is over £700m, a significant proportion of which goes on physiotherapy.

The problem is that no one knows if the treatment works. Zurich, a big fan of rehabilitation, admits that validated research on the effect of physiotherapy is inconclusive.

At a time when the industry is struggling to keep claims costs under control the fact that millions of pounds may be going to waste is of great concern. It will simply filter through to higher premiums.

It is unacceptable to continue in this state of uncertainty. Insurers must be able to make an informed decision about whether to use this treatment.

There needs to be some definitive research into the effectiveness of the physiotherapy.

Medico-Legal Reporting, a company that provides specialist medical reports for the legal profession, has been developing just such a project. Using its network of GPs and epidemiologists it has put together the framework for a properly organised and managed research project.

Of course, to save money it is often necessary to spend money, and the project would need the financial support of the industry. This would not be an insignificant amount - it is a nationwide exercise with control candidates, reporting over a six to eight-year period. But the potential benefits are immense.

If the research showed that physiotherapy can be successful, then further efforts should be channelled into its use. On the other hand, if physiotherapy is shown not to speed recovery then the enormous annual spend must stop.

The industry, particularly insurers, should back the project.

It is a valuable opportunity to save the industry millions of pounds at a time when every penny counts.

Is this a good idea?

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michael.faulkner@instimes.co.uk