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Government support for GPs welcomed, but caution is urged

12 October 2017

In the latest development regarding indemnity costs for GPs, the Government has announced its decision to develop a state-backed indemnity scheme for GPs in England.

The announcement, which comes at a time when the line between primary and secondary care in the UK has become increasingly blurred due to NHS reforms, follows the Government’s decision in February to substantially change the way in which personal injury compensation payments are calculated.

The decision to lower the personal injury discount rate (PIDR) saw the rate at which compensation payments are calculated fall from 2.5% to minus 0.75%, resulting in a significant increase to the cost of settling large clinical negligence claims.

The impact of that change has meant that the cost of clinical negligence claims, where there is an element of future loss such as ongoing care costs or loss of earnings, have significantly increased, particularly for GPs.

We're making sure your concerns are heard

From the moment that the reduction to the PIDR was announced, we have been absolutely clear that GPs should not have to shoulder any additional financial burden as a result of the Government’s decision. We have also highlighted the severity of the situation for GPs if the right level of governmental support is not forthcoming, especially as the decision to amend the rate comes at a time when the cost of clinical negligence is already at a worryingly high level.

Fundamentally, this is an issue created by the Government, and one which we believe they need to resolve, and we want to ensure that they remain focused on delivering a solution that works for GPs. We have spent the last few months in intensive discussions with the Government, helping them to shape a solution which would provide an acceptable level of support for GPs.

When introduced, the state-backed indemnity scheme would provide indemnity against clinical negligence claims arising from NHS contracted work, and would provide a similar arrangement to the NHS indemnity scheme that already exists for NHS hospital doctors.

Support for complaints, GMC inquiries, inquests and disciplinary proceedings will not be included, and we will continue to offer this support to GP members, just as we have for hospital doctors since NHS indemnity was introduced for them in 1990.

The details of the scheme are still to be developed, and we anticipate that it is likely to be around 12-18 months before any new arrangement is in place. In the meantime, it is imperative that GPs maintain their existing membership to ensure that they have appropriate and adequate indemnity in place.

The announcement is in direct response to increasing concern over the rising cost of clinical negligence for GPs and the negative impact that the lowering of the PIDR would have on general practice, and is indicative of the direction of travel that it has adopted in recent years.

It builds upon the work that the Government has started with the Winter Indemnity payments, which have, for the last three years, covered the cost of supplementary indemnity for any additional out-of-hours work undertaken by GPs. It also supports the promises made in NHS England’s ‘GP Forward View’.

We continue to hold the Government to account

We are pleased that the Government has recognised that GPs need protecting against the increased cost of clinical negligence indemnity, and appreciate that the proposed state-backed indemnity scheme will be welcomed by many, but we also do want to sound a note of caution. It would be easy to see this as a solution to the rising cost of clinical negligence, but to do so would be an oversight. The scheme would be tantamount to a sticking plaster when it comes to addressing the underlying issue of the rising cost of clinical negligence claims, and until legal reform is introduced, the root cause will remain unaddressed and costs will continue to increase.

This is something we are actively campaigning for with our Striking a Balance campaign, which we are calling on the Government to sign up to and commit to tackling the increasing cost of clinical negligence for all doctors and dentists.

In September, the Government announced its plan to reform how the discount rate is set in future, which is a welcome step in the right direction. However, it will take time to implement and as a return to the pre-existing rate is highly unlikely, the cost of settling claims will still be significantly higher than it was before the Government changed the rate.

State-backed indemnity won't address the root cause

The state-backed indemnity scheme would be highly unlikely to do anything to significantly reduce the overall cost of clinical negligence claims, nor would it reduce the risk of a claim being brought. This is because it won’t address the underlying issue of rising clinical negligence claims, and ultimately, it won’t change the fact that the cost of being sued will always need to be paid for.

Which is why we will continue our campaign for legal reform to tackle the root cause of the problem, and our endeavour to find a solution which addresses, once and for all, the continuing, yet unsustainable increase in the cost of clinical negligence claims.

If you would like more information on the Government’s announcement and what it might mean for you, or if you want to learn more about the impact that the PIDR is having on the cost of claims being brought against GPs, then please visit our online GP indemnity hub where you will find information, articles, Q&As and case studies.

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