Health secretary Jeremy Hunt today announced plans to develop a state-backed indemnity scheme for general practitioners (GPs) in England.
He said the aim was to deliver “a more stable and more affordable system for GPs and their patients” that could provide financially sustainable cover for future and, potentially, historic claims arising from the delivery of NHS services.
In a statement to Parliament, Mr Hunt said the Department of Health has been talking to the four medical defence organisations (MDOs) and GP representatives over recent months. The transfer of historic liabilities from MDOs to a new scheme would be “dependent on satisfactory negotiation with the MDOs”.
He continued: “We will explore with GP representatives how to embed new indemnity arrangements, including the future costs, into GP contract negotiations…
“Any scheme would take at least 12-18 months to establish and require careful negotiation. GPs should continue to ensure they have appropriate indemnity cover in line with General Medical Council requirements to enable them to practise.”
Mr Hunt said NHS England has already committed to provide additional funding to GP practices to cover the estimated annual indemnity inflation for 2016/17 and 2017/18. NHS England has also announced additional money for indemnity cover over the coming winter.
No decision has yet been taken on whether NHS Resolution will run the scheme.
Simon Kayll, chief executive of the Medical Protection Society, welcomed the announcement, but said it did solve the underlying issue of rising clinical negligence costs, particularly in light of the change in the discount rate earlier this year.
“The fact that the government has recognised the importance of protecting GPs from the increased costs, after months of discussions, is positive,” he said.
“A scheme which would in time deliver access to state-backed indemnity for all NHS doctors in England – reflecting the changing nature of primary care – will be welcome news to many GPs.
“This new scheme would not however solve the underlying issue of rising clinical negligence costs. The cost of claims will always need to be paid for, and will continue to increase unless the root of the issue is tackled, through legal reform.”
Mr Kayall added that the society was in a “strong position to adapt to the changing face of indemnity”.
“The new scheme would not include assistance with complaints, GMC inquiries, inquests, disciplinary proceedings or indemnity for non-NHS activity. MPS would continue to provide this support to GPs – just as we have for hospital doctors since NHS indemnity was introduced for them in 1990.”
The Medical Defence Union (MDU) – which has been running a ‘Save General Practice’ campaign because of the rising cost of indemnity insurance – not only backed the government announcement but also said it would be reducing indemnity subscriptions for GPs and primary care staff working in England by around 50% ahead in of anticipation of the scheme.
It said this reflected the MDU’s expectation that claims arising from NHS primary care provided after the announcement “will in due course be picked up by the new NHS scheme”.
In the transitional period until it is up and running, members could continue to report claims to the MDU, it said.
Chief executive Dr Christine Tomkins said: “We are pleased to see the government’s announcement today of a state-backed indemnity scheme for general practice in England. To be workable, the scheme will not only need to pick up new GP claims, but also claims costs which have not already been paid for GPs working under an NHS England contract.”