State indemnity plans have eased GP fears despite lack of detail

Most GPs say plans to introduce state-backed indemnity have made them feel positive about the cost of cover in the future, a poll shows.

(Photo: iStock.com/Caymia)
(Photo: iStock.com/Caymia)

In a survey of 450 GPs, conducted by the MDU, 32% said they felt very positive and 43% that they were fairly positive about the likely impact of the state-backed scheme on indemnity costs in future. Some 12% were worried about the impact of the scheme and the remaining 13% were neutral on the issue.

Plans for state-backed indemnity were announced last October by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt in an attempt to reverse falling GP numbers. A 50% increase in annual costs per GP between 2010 and 2016 - with further increases since - has forced many doctors to turn down shifts, reduce their hours or quit the profession altogether.

A GPonline investigation last month highlighted the importance of state-backed indemnity for the future of the profession. GPonline revealed that nearly half of GPs could quit over the next five years if the state-backed indemnity deal fails to meet their expectations.

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What we know so far about the state-backed indemnity deal

GPs responding to the MDU’s poll also seem to feel that state indemnity will be crucial for the future GP workforce. One said: ‘Finally the government is listening and this may help with the retention of GPs. Another added: ‘It gives GPs parity with hospital colleagues who already have crown indemnity so does not penalise GPs for their career choice anymore.’

One GP's response to the MDU poll highlighted the need for more detail: ‘I am glad the government has agreed to bear some of the cost, but it does not yet seem to be a fully "done deal" so it is difficult to work out the implications.’

State-backed indemnity

The scheme is due to start in April 2019, but so far there is little information about how it will work in practice. Of more than 400 GPs who responded to GPonline’s poll last month, 81% said they were dissatisfied with the lack of detail available.

Details of what the scheme will cover could help GPs choose between the indemnity packages on offer from defence organisations. In the wake of Mr Hunt's announcement last October, the MDU set out plans to cut costs for GPs with a 'transitional scheme' designed to take advantage of the switch to a state deal, while the other defence organisations have maintained their existing indemnity schemes.

The MDU believes that the government will assume responsibility for historic claims under the state-backed scheme, as it did when the NHS indemnity scheme for hospital doctors was introduced, although the government has suggested it may not do so. If the government does not, GPs on the transitional scheme could have to pay for extra 'run-off' cover - although the MDU says this will only apply for a maximum of seven years, and cost no more in total than standard indemnity cover would have done for the period it relates to.

MDU director of professional services Dr Matthew Lee said: ‘With around eight months to go until the government intends to introduce state-backed indemnity, it’s promising to see that many GPs feel positive about the cost of indemnity in the future.

‘We are in continuing dialogue with the English and Welsh governments as the new schemes are developed. We believe that to be fair and workable, the schemes need to address GPs’ historic liabilities as well as responding to future claims, as happened when NHS indemnity for hospital doctors was introduced in 1990.’

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