The UK government introduced a state-backed indemnity scheme in England on 1 April 2019, covering clinical negligence claims for general practitioners (GPs). But GPs should be aware that there are gaps in the coverage that could leave them without adequate protection in specific eventualities.
The state-backed scheme covers clinical negligence claims arising from an act (or an omission to act) on the part of a GP or any other person working in a general practice setting where that act (or omission) is connected to the diagnosis, care or treatment of a patient and results in personal injury or loss to the patient. In many ways, this is a very welcome development as there will now be a uniform approach to indemnity of those working in general practice, whether they are locums, nurse practitioners or salaried GPs for example.
But the scheme does not cover a number of activities, including professional and regulatory difficulties which may emerge.
“The scheme does not include cover for General Medical Council (GMC) investigations and disciplinary proceedings,” says Flora McCabe, solicitor and Head of Healthcare Claims at Lockton. “If proceedings or investigations of this nature arise they can be just as distressing, if not more so, than a clinical negligence matter.
The scheme does not include cover for General Medical Council (GMC) investigations and disciplinary proceedings.
“A GMC Investigation that results in a negative finding can be career-ending for a GP,” McCabe warns. “Proper, insurer-backed representation where there is no risk of scrimping on costs of defence lawyers is therefore crucial”.
Likewise, preparation for and attendance at inquests will not be covered by the Scheme.
“Inquests are emotionally taxing and can have the feel of formal court proceedings. The coroner’s finding can influence whether or not a civil claim is brought,” McCabe says.
“If a GP is unprepared or unrepresented at an inquest this can be both disrespectful to the deceased and their family and can make a protracted civil claim more likely, as well as causing the GP to feel very isolated.”
Unless the complaint is accompanied by a formal claim, its handling is also not covered by the scheme. This is problematic, as dealing with a complaint effectively can prevent a claim developing whilst, conversely, poor, unsupervised responses can provoke a claim, McCabe notes.
As a response to the gaps of the government-backed indemnity scheme, Lockton is expanding its consultancy services for assistance with complaint responses.
“Lockton can aid early settlement of cases and ensure inadvertent admissions of liability are avoided by supervising and helping to draft complaint replies, along with witness statements and Serious Incident (SI) Reports. In this way, Lockton can help health practitioners save on legal fees and reduce claims,” McCabe says.
Other activities and services excluded by the state-backed scheme are non-NHS or private work, ombudsman and NHS England investigations, and employment and contractual disputes.
GPs are also not automatically covered for non-clinical liabilities such as those relating to defamation and claims in Primary Care NHS dentistry, optometry and community pharmacy.
For these areas, GPs will need to arrange additional protection, and can turn to Lockton’s market expertise for help.
Early notification of incidents is key, in order to reduce both cost and the time taken to reach resolution. An early notification also enables a proactive investigation of liability, in turn ensuring candour and allowing the organisation to learn from mistakes. Furthermore, it ensures that the staff involved are supported from the outset.
“A high level of incident notification enables the accumulation of data to analyse and share within the organisation and with partners, allowing the implementation of counter measures,” McCabe says.
“We are available to conduct audits of organisations’ complaint handling and to offer assistance where required,” she adds.
For further information please contact:
Head of Healthcare Claims
Tel: +44 (0) 207 933 2516