Soaring clinical negligence payouts 'main barrier' to improving GP services

The soaring cost of damages payouts in clinical negligence cases is among the main barriers to improving UK general practice, a senior NHS England official has warned.

Ros Roughton: NHS England director of commissioning
Ros Roughton: NHS England director of commissioning

The rising cost of claims has triggered a sharp increase in the cost of medical indemnity for GPs. Nine in 10 GPs reported that their medical indemnity fees had increased in the 12 months to July 2016, a recent GPonline poll found.

Rosamond Roughton, NHS England’s director of commissioning, told the NHS Expo event in Manchester on Thursday: 'It is certainly one of the main things that I can see as a barrier. The rise in indemnity costs is not being driven predominantly by the rise in the number of claims. It is not linked to general practice or quality. The rise in the damages being awarded by the courts is an important thing to be clear about.'

She added: 'It is really for government in the longer term to ask "what does this mean?" and look at the way the judicial system operates because fundamentally that’s the only way we will begin to manage these costs in a sensible way.

GP indemnity costs

'Scotland does not have the same issues that England has and that is a reflection of the different basis of law that Scotland has.'

Wessex LMCs chief executive Dr Nigel Watson, who leads a south Hampshire vanguard developing new models of care, said offering indemnity through a trust could slash costs for GPs and help retain GPs who were being put off working by high indemnity costs.'

'A full-time GP will spend between £12,000 to £15,000 a year on indemnity,' he said. 'Where we have new models of care and employed practice as part of a trust indemnity scheme, that drops to £1,000.'

Medico-legal expert Dr Rob Hendry, medical director at indemnity organisation MPS, backed the comments from Ms Roughton and called for swift action to bring down the cost of clinical negligence.

Clinical negligence claims

Dr Hendry said: 'The NHS is now seeing damages reaching well over £10m in some cases. It is crucial that we ask ourselves whether it is appropriate and affordable to continue to pay such high costs in damages.'

The MPS has called for reform of the legal system, with fixed costs for small value claims and a cap on damages for future costs of care and earnings.

Meanwhile, the Cameron Fund - a charity that supports GPs facing financial difficulty - has warned of a sharp rise in appeals for support from doctors, often because of unaffordable indemnity.

NHS England announced in July £60m in funding over two years as a short-term measure to help ease the burden of rising indemnity costs for GPs while it seeks a longer-term solution.

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