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Jeremy Hunt may announce major reform to GP indemnity this week



Exclusive The Government may be about to make a major announcement on GP indemnity at the RCGP annual conference on Thursday, Pulse understands.

Several well-placed sources have confirmed they expect health secretary Jeremy Hunt will use his speech at the conference in Liverpool to announce how he intends to support GPs amid rising costs. 

The Department of Health told Pulse its plans ‘are still to be confirmed’ but didn’t deny an announcement on indemnity was on the cards.

It comes after Pulse delivered a letter signed by more than 300 GPs to Mr Hunt last month calling for full reimbursement of indemnity fees.

GP leaders told Pulse they had made clear that full reimbursement for GPs’ NHS work ‘is the only acceptable solution’ but said health ministers were keeping the content of this week’s announcement under wraps.

The Department of Health has already pledged that it will protect GPs from rises and ‘ensure appropriate funding is available to meet additional costs to GPs’.

But this has caused a stalemate with the major indemnity organisations, saying they have held off on increasing their fees until the Government makes clear how it intends to address spiralling costs.

At the last meeting of NHS England’s board, chief executive Simon Stevens said a ‘very substantial, medium-term GP indemnity solution’ was expected in the ‘not too distant future’.

And sources close to NHS England and the negotiations said they expect something this week.

While no party would share details of the announcement, some GP leaders set out what steps the DH needed to take to avert a crisis.

Chair of the Family Doctor Association Dr Peter Swinyard said that he believed the DH had seemed open to the idea of complete reimbursement for indemnity fees, after the BMA this summer suggested that full reimbursement ‘was on the table’.

He told Pulse: ‘I haven’t had a sneak preview, but we at the FDA along with many others have made it clear to NHS England that the only acceptable solution for GPs is full reimbursement of indemnity costs for the NHS part of their work.’

‘That’s not 100% reimbursement, but certainly for partners it would relate to NHS works, in the same way that hospital consultants don’t pay indemnity for their NHS work.

‘It’s certainly what we’ve been pushing for, and I think we’ve been pushing against a bit of an open door.’

And he added that this should apply to all GPs, telling Pulse: ‘We want it to cover locums as well, because we fear they could be hung out to dry otherwise.’

Solving the indemnity problem

The Government announced last month that it was already looking at how it could reduce some of the costs GPs are facing.

It announced new legislation that would mean a rapid review of the discount rate, the formula for calculating compensation payouts, and potentially avert some rises.

The discount rate changes introduced under the last Conservative government have been at the root of the expected increases to indemnity this year.

And the prospect of a review meant indemnity provider MDDUS pledged not to increase its fees – on top of its already scheduled increases – until next summer.

And NHS England was again forced to offer reimbursement for any GPs picking up additional out-of-hours shifts this winter, despite pledging a long-term solution this year.

But Pulse has shown 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.

But 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.