Just what does it take for a GP to diagnose you with whiplash?

Whiplash – it’s the diagnosis which divides medical opinion.

Some professionals believe it’s a myth.

One former Irish neurosurgeon even went as far as saying it’s “nothing but a gravy train for medics, victims and lawyers”.

But other medical experts say it is a legitimate condition. The Irish Independent decided to investigate what it takes to get a whiplash diagnosis.

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I attended four GP consultations and complained of neck pain and stiffness following a “rear-ending accident”. I wasn’t in any accident, and I didn’t overly exaggerate my symptoms.

Each doctor asked me to do a series of stretches and I did them relatively comfortably.

There were no grimacing faces or wincing sounds, but I said I was a bit sore on the left side of my neck.

So an uninjured reporter was able to walk into GP practices off the street, complain of a bit of stiffness and walk out with a whiplash diagnosis and a sick certificate.

The physical examinations with each doctor lasted less than two minutes. Physiotherapist Margaret Hanlon, who is an expert witness for the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists, said the standard whiplash test carried out by physios usually lasts between 30 and 45 minutes.

“Whiplash shouldn’t be easy to fake,” she told the Irish Independent.

“We carry out a series of movements to see if there is a match up between what you’re telling us and what we’re finding on testing.

“You can fake pain but you can’t fake restriction of movement.”

Ms Hanlon carries out physical examinations for personal injury cases and has compiled a number of reports for the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, the independent body which assesses compensation claims.

She has come across patients who have exaggerated their injuries, but insists it’s easy to identify those who are genuine and those who are not.

Ms Hanlon says GPs diagnosing whiplash injuries can sometimes be problematic as they may not have much experience in that area.

Currently, Ireland has among the highest pay-outs for whiplash injuries in Europe. In the first half of 2018, victims of whiplash were awarded an average of €20,000 – 4.4 times higher than in the UK.

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