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DH pledges to protect GPs from looming indemnity fee hikes

Exclusive GP practices can expect to be reimbursed if, as expected, the indemnity providers radically increase their prices in the next few months, the Department of Health has said.

Medical defence organisations are expected to increase fees ‘within months’ because of increasing costs to lifetime payouts in clinical negligence cases, directly linked to the reduction to the discount rate that came in from March this year.

The BMA’s GP Committee has said it is in ‘urgent talks’ with the Government about increasing reimbursement, which is £30m for this year, or 52p per patient for each practice. However the DH has told Pulse it will not announce any increase to this until the medical defence organisations actually increase their fees.

But when they do rise, a DH spokesperson said funding would be made available.

The spokesperson said: ‘The Department of Health will work closely with GPs and medical defence organisations to ensure that appropriate funding is available to meet additional costs to GPs, recognising the crucial role they play in the delivery of NHS care.’

Asked whether they are due to increase fees, the defence organisations said they were awaiting the outcome of ongoing talks with the Government.

A Medical Defence Union spokesperson said: ‘GPs continue to practise safely but indemnity costs rises are due to an outdated legal system. The Government’s decision to drastically reduce the discount rate used for calculating compensation payments has made matters much worse.

‘The sad fact is that our current subscriptions, while unaffordable for some GPs, do not yet reflect the true cost.

‘The MDU has held back from charging the full subscription to take account of the discount rate because the government has since February promised additional funding. We are continuing to discuss this issue with the Department of Health to find a solution.’

A Medical Protection Society spokesperson said: ‘MPS has not yet made any changes to membership subscriptions for GPs to reflect the reduction in the [discount rate], as any changes will be dependent upon the outcome of our discussions with the Government.’

The MDOs have raised serious concerns about the discount rate changes, which they have said would double the cost of some payouts, and last month Pulse revealed that the DH was urgently reviewing the threat to GPs.

But the plans for further reimbursement comes as LMC leaders have condemned the current scheme, which sees practices receiving the top-up funding based on patient list size, for being ‘inequitable’.

Dr Fay Wilson, a GP in Birmingham and medical director for out-of-hours provider Badger, said the reimbursement scheme has ‘not done a thing for out of hours and urgent care’.

She said: ‘If the discount rate changes come in, which they are going to, and if indemnity rates double, I can’t see how people are going to carry on.’

Solving the indemnity cost problem

New GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey has warned that working as a GP would become ‘untenable’ for many as MDOs were expected to raise fees this autumn and many GPs have already reduced their sessions due to soaring legal costs.

Ministers in England made a two-year commitment to bear the cost of any indemnity cover increases for GPs and have indicated this will continue past 2019.

LMC representatives voted in May for GPC to negotiate full reimbursement of indemnity costs for GPs and for any future reimbursement scheme to target individual GPs directly.

Although the push for a long-term solution is taking its time to materialise, the GPC has said that ‘everything is on the table’ in their discussions with the Government, including a state-funded scheme.