State-backed GP indemnity deal will not stop rising negligence costs, warn MDOs

Plans for a state-backed GP indemnity scheme will not tackle the fundamental problem that medical negligence costs are consuming a growing proportion of the overall NHS budget, medical defence organisations (MDOs) have warned.

Reacting to plans set out by health secretary Jeremy Hunt at the RCGP annual conference in Liverpool on Thursday, MDOs warned that changing how primary care indemnity is funded will make no difference to the overall cost of negligence to the NHS.

MDOs are continuing to press for reforms to cap the fees lawyers can charge, and a rethink on changes to the discount rate that will further ratchet up the overall cost of indemnity.

MDOs have said they are prepared to enter talks with the government, GPC and RCGP over what could be a landmark change to GP indemnity arrangements, as health secretary Jeremy Hunt reveals plans to launch a state-backed GP scheme potentially from next year.

But MDDUS chief executive Chris Kenny warned that the announcement today from Mr Hunt 'raises more questions than it answers'.

He called for 'detailed and specific answers on a wide range of issues including the cost of the scheme, how it will be managed and ensuring GPs have a choice with fair competition', and for assurances that doctors could opt out if the deal proved unacceptable.

GP indemnity

He added: 'It is no secret that the rising cost of indemnity has been a major concern to GPs, particularly in England. The government’s failure to reform the law of tort and cap costs that lawyers are taking from the NHS and GPs has been the main driver in rising indemnity costs. That’s outside the control of medical defence organisations and today’s announcement doesn’t tackle that.

'GPs in particular have borne the brunt of a financial perfect storm and it’s profoundly disappointing to see the government seeking to move rather than reduce claims costs as it fails to tackle the underlying issues.

'Last year the government’s own conclusion was that: "Ultimately any move towards adopting a different model of indemnity in primary care would need to reconcile the fact that the cost would not disappear, and would still need to be funded within the overall health budget."

'In the absence of legal reform, that conclusion still holds good. We wait to see how ministers propose to square this circle.'

Medical Protection Society chief executive Simon Kayll said: 'The government’s decision to change the discount rate significantly increased the cost of settling claims where there is an element of future care costs or loss of earnings, at a time when the cost of clinical negligence was already at risk of becoming unsustainable.

'The fact that the government has recognised the importance of protecting GPs from the increased costs, after months of discussions, is positive. 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.'

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