Exclusive: Rise in medical indemnity costs accelerates as 90% of GPs face higher fees

Medical indemnity fees rose for nine in 10 GPs over the last year, with costs for over a quarter of the workforce up more than 20%, a poll suggests.

The findings suggest that the rise in indemnity costs has accelerated, and that the profession as a whole is paying tens of millions of pounds more for medical indemnity than 12 months ago.

A total of 93% of GPs saw their medical indemnity costs increase in the last year, the GPonline poll of over 400 GPs found.

A third (33%) said fees had increased 0-10%, another third (32%) by 11-20% and 28% by more than 20%. The remaining 7% said their fees had decreased.

Medical indemnity costs

The majority (53%) of full-time GPs revealed they are now paying over £7,500 a year to maintain legal cover. One in seven (15%) pay over £10,000.

The results follow a survey by GPonline last year that found indemnity fees had risen more than 20% for a third of GPs over the past five years. The latest survey suggests the rise in fees has speeded up.

GP respondents to the poll hit out at the 'ridiculous amount of money' they were paying for indemnity. LMC leaders at the emergency LMCs conference in January this year called for the GPC to explore the possibility of crown indemnity cover for general practice.

Medico-legal experts said costs were rising due to the ‘spiralling cost of claims’. The Medical Defence Union (MDU) said claims inflation is rising ‘at a steady rate of 10% per year, outstripping other forms of inflation’.

NHS England said it was ‘determined’ to resolve the issue. A spokeswoman told GPonline: ‘Rising indemnity costs are having a serious impact on GPs as well as stifling innovation in primary care delivery.

Primary care innovation

‘We are determined to help resolve this issue and the recently launched GP Forward View is just part of the work we are doing with our partners to further support GPs and the wider care primary care workforce.’

Paying £5m in a claim against a GP ‘is no longer unusual’, MDU head of professional standards and liaison Dr Michael Devlin warned. He estimates that the largest GP settlement by 2020 will be almost £18m.

‘We are very concerned that claims inflation has been rising at a steady 10% as a result of a prolonged adverse claims climate,’ he said.

‘This is largely because of the economic and legal environment and outside the control of GPs. The MDU needs to reflect these claims costs in members’ subscriptions and we have to be sure we are collecting sufficient income to meet future claims costs.

‘To do otherwise would not be in our members’ interests. We are acutely aware of members’ concerns about indemnity costs and are co-operating with the DH and NHS England in the GP indemnity review.’

Government action

Chris Kenny, CEO of medico-legal organisation MDDUS, said: ‘MDDUS has been looking after the interests of doctors for over 100 years and shares their concern about the rising cost of indemnity. But we cannot wish away the cost pressures of the growing numbers of claims and increasingly generous awards.

‘MDDUS charges subscriptions that are based on a detailed consideration of likely future costs – including the costs of claims which have occurred but not yet been reported – based on our previous claims experience and incorporating expert actuarial analysis.

‘We have been forced to increase subscriptions to reflect a growing number of claims and increasingly generous awards made to claimants by the courts, as well as the increased legal costs – a key area on which we are urging government to act.’

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