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Future health policies that may affect you

11 February 2019

At Medical Protection we care about the environment you work in, and wherever possible we share our experience and expertise to influence policies that may have an impact on your practice and the wider medicolegal system.

There was a significant range of policy initiatives introduced in 2018 that we are closely monitoring in order to ensure that your concerns and our medicolegal experience are being recognised.

Most Bills are facing delays due to the Government’s focus on the annual Budget Speech and other political debates that currently take priority. It is believed that not much will pass before the General Elections in May/June.

National Health Insurance Bill

National Health Insurance (NHI) is a financing system that seeks to ensure that all citizens (and legal long-term residents) are provided with essential healthcare, regardless of their employment status and ability to make a direct monetary contribution to the NHI Fund.

We welcome initiatives that aim to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for all. We do however have significant concerns that the current draft Bill is silent on the subject of medical and dental indemnity.  As it currently stands, it is not clear where the responsibility for indemnity would lie.

Although the Bill is progressing with significant delay, we are working to ensure that the lack of clarity around indemnity arrangements is addressed and accounted for in the new legislation. Doctors need to have certainty over indemnity arrangements and we are engaging with the Government with the aim of supporting the development of appropriate mechanisms for malpractice liabilities.

Health Market Inquiry

The Competition Commission has conducted a Health Market Inquiry (HMI) in the private healthcare sector. The Commission believes that there are features of the sector that prevent, distort or restrict competition.

We have been engaging with the inquiry to highlight the impact of rising clinical negligence costs on doctors and the urgent need for legal reform.

The HMI report recognises that “the increase in the size of medical malpractice claims, which, together with the increase in medical indemnity, are a barrier to enter medical practice".

At a time when the healthcare system is already facing tough financial pressures and must make difficult decisions about how it allocates its limited resources, there is an urgent need to review how money is being spent, and we welcome efforts such as this Inquiry to address certain imbalances.

The rising number and cost of claims continues to be an area that needs urgent attention. There are wide range of complex factors that are driving the increase in the cost of clinical negligence claims. This is why a range of action is needed, including education and risk management to tackle claims from happening in the first place, a change of culture and systems so issues are dealt with much more effectively, as well as reforms that would reduce legal costs.

For financial reasons, all HMI activities have been halted until the new budget has been allocated, and independent contractors have been paid by the Competition Commission.  

State Liability Amendment Bill

This Bill is a reaction to increasing clinical negligence claims against the State by patients for negligence occurred in public healthcare. It contemplates that patients who claim from the State for medical negligence will be restricted in terms of the type of award they will receive, i.e. the structured payment of a successful claim and the periodic payment/s for future expenses rather than lump sum payouts. 

While changes to the State Liability Act are a positive step in trying to tackle the costs associated with clinical negligence, it should be noted that it will not completely solve the root cause of the problem. We would like to see the implementation of legal reforms that would have a much bigger impact on reducing costs to both the state and private sector.

This includes, among others, a limit on general damages and a limit on claims for loss of future earnings and care costs.

As with the NHI Bill, it has been very quiet around the State Liability Amendment Bill, and it has not been included in the Parliamentary agenda for Q1. Politicians’ focus is now very much on the Budget speech in February which will then be debated in Parliament.

Looking ahead

We expect that each of these debates will continue throughout the coming year and we will continue to represent members’ interests when engaging with the Government and others. If you have any comments or questions we would love to hear from you. 

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