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MDU members at risk of liability for historic claims under NHS indemnity scheme

GPs who are members of the Medical Defence Union are still at risk of being held liable for historic claims once the Government’s indemnity scheme is introduced in April.

The new NHS indemnity scheme for GPs will cover all future clinical negligence claims, but discussions are still ongoing about whether it will also apply to incidents that occur before the scheme’s introduction.

The MDU previously reduced its fees for its members because it believed the Government scheme would pick up historic cases – but GPs were later warned this may not be the case and could leave them liable for costs.

In today’s wide-ranging GP contract it was confirmed that the Government will increase core funding for GMS practices at the same time as paying for the new scheme, which will launch in April in England and Wales.

Medical defence organisations have welcomed the Government’s commitment to pay for the scheme separately from practices’ global sum funding – and confirmed they would be reducing their fees as a result.

But they have warned details are ‘missing’ about how existing clinical negligence claims – as well as those that are reported in the future about incidents from before April 2019 – will be paid for under the new NHS scheme.

Health minister Steve Brine confirmed in a written statement to parliament today that arrangements for these types of claims are still under discussion.

He said: ‘The contract will also protect the general practice workforce against rising indemnity costs by introducing a new and centrally-funded clinical negligence scheme for general practice from April 2019.

‘The department also intends to establish the arrangements for an existing liabilities scheme in April 2019, subject to satisfactory discussions with the medical defence organisations.’

The MDU has reiterated its call for existing claims to be included in the state-backed scheme.

It reduced its subscription fees by 50% in November 2017 when the Government first announced it would bring in state-backed indemnity by 2019 – in the belief that the NHS would inherit claims from that point onwards.

GPs were later warned by the Depatment of Health that if they took up the MDU’s offer they would not be covered for any claims that originate between purchasing the cut price cover and the time the Government’s scheme is introduced.

Following the contract announcement today, Dr Christine Tomkins, MDU chief executive, said: ‘The government has today confirmed that it is to introduce state indemnity in April 2019 for future claims arising from NHS primary care and we await the regulations which will establish the future liabilities scheme.

‘We have always made it clear that the promise to protect GPs from the unsustainable cost of indemnity and a tort system which is out of control requires that existing liabilities are included in the state scheme too, as they were for NHS hospital doctors when state indemnity came in for them in 1990. Discussions on these past historic liabilities continue.’

However, a spokesperson for the MDU told Pulse that it still intended to ‘significantly reduce’ its fees further once the NHS scheme was introduced.

They added: ‘As the state-backed indemnity scheme is expected to cover claims arising from work done under an NHS contract in England and Wales after April 2019, MDU subscriptions will significantly reduce. We will write to each individual member ahead of their renewal to explain the impact on their membership.’

The Medical Protection Society also confirmed it would be reducing its fees, but was unable to confirm by how much.

Simon Kayll, chief executive at MPS, said: ‘Members working in general practice can expect to pay less for their membership with Medical Protection once the clinical negligence scheme for general practice is introduced.

‘This is because the potential cost of clinical negligence claims accounts for a significant amount of the membership subscription they currently pay. Removing or reducing the indemnity component when they move to the new scheme will therefore reduce the cost of their membership subscription.’

He also said it was ‘essential’ that more details about the scheme – due in February – ‘cannot come soon enough to ensure a smooth transition’.

The Medical Defense Societysaid it would also be offering a ‘pro rata refund to members on the portion of fees paid for cover of medical malpractice claims’ once the Government scheme was introduced and would be contacting GPs to advise them on the exact reduction.

Meanwhile the MDDUS said more details were required about how existing claims will be dealt with, as well as the impact of the changes on GP workload.

MDDUS chief executive Chris Kenny said: ‘We welcome the confirmation that the scheme will operate from April this year, though much operational detail is still missing as are details on the management of existing claims.

‘What’s important now is that GPs in England receive more information about how the new scheme will operate and particularly any workload impact on practices.’

Find all the headlines from the 2019/20 GP contract here…