Two of the three main GP indemnity providers have provided reassurances to Northern Irish GPs that they will not see indemnity cost increases this year despite a discount rate change.
The reassurances, from the Medical Protection Society (MPS) and Medical Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS), come as the Northern Irish Government has confirmed that new legislation reducing the personal injury discount rate (PIDR) will come into effect on 31 May.
Meanwhile, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) told Pulse it is ‘in discussions’ with the NI Government to ‘shield GPs from the impact’, hoping ‘a solution can be found’. Earlier this week (4 May), it had warned that the planned changes could lead to GPs facing ‘marked increases in their indemnity subscriptions’.
The PIDR, which will be reduced in Northern Ireland from 2.5% to a new rate of -1.75%, is used to calculate the final financial compensation for victims of serious personal injury according to the amount they can expect to earn by investing it.
The lower the discount rate, the larger the lump sum that needs to be awarded, with NI GPs facing a potential knock-on effect as they are not protected by state-backed indemnity provision.
Speaking with Pulse, BMA Northern Ireland GP Committee chair Dr Alan Stout said: ‘We have met with two of the three main indemnity companies and they have both given us reassurance that there will not be a short-term increase in fees for the coming year.
‘There is still a concern about the impact on costs beyond this, and this will be subject to ongoing discussion.’
He added: ‘Despite this good news, GPs in NI are still faced with very high personal indemnity costs, the only healthcare professionals in the whole of the UK to have this, and I am discussing this further with our Minister on Monday.’
MPS said it had anticipated the PIDR decrease for some time and has been actively working to determine where additional cost savings for impacted members could be made.
As a result, the PIDR change will not lead to an increase in professional indemnity fees for most of its members.
Chief executive Simon Kayll said: ‘We know many Northern Ireland GP’s will be aware of the planned change to the PIDR and have concerns regarding what this means for the cost of their indemnity.
‘I would like to reassure Medical Protection members that contrary to what they may have heard from others, Medical Protection members will not see a significant increase in their subscription fees.’
He added: ‘We are also working to secure a better long-term outcome for members.
‘A further PIDR change is expected again next year once new legislation has passed which would amend how the rate is set in future.
‘We have been working with other organisations and making representations to the Department of Justice with the aim of ensuring the best possible outcome for members.’
Meanwhile, an MDDUS spokesperson told Pulse: ‘MDDUS will not be making increases to its GP members’ fees in Northern Ireland as a result of the PIDR changes that are due to come into force following a decision by the Department of Justice.’
And an MDU spokesperson said: ‘We are in discussions with the Department of Health in Northern Ireland to shield GPs from the impact of the forthcoming change in the discount rate and hope a solution can be found. The change will have a dramatic impact on the amounts being paid out in some medical negligence claims, as we saw when the rate was changed in England. Ultimately, the cost of this will fall onto medical professionals working in Northern Ireland.
‘We are not alone in warning about the impact, and the BMA has already issued a similar warning.’