Committee backs GP indemnity law, but reforms to clinical negligence laws are more urgently needed

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Health & Social Care Committee
Stage 1 Report: NHS Indemnities Bill (pdf)
Published: 12th November 2019

The NHS Indemnities Bill will create a publicly-backed indemnity scheme for GPs in Wales to cover costs associated with medical negligence cases.

1. There’s broad support for the Bill, but there are worries the new scheme doesn’t do enough to protect doctors’ professional standing

It’s no surprise that the medical profession supports the Bill. In the absence of wider reforms to laws on personal injury and medical negligence, there was a need for some form of state-backed indemnity scheme.

The Committee was told that the personal claims environment in Scotland – which has a completely different system of law to EnglandandWales – is benign and law firms have been discouraged from trying to progress medical negligence cases there because Scots law has never encouraged it.

There was some criticism from the Medical Defence Union that there was little consultation on proposals for a state-backed indemnity scheme in either England or Wales. There’s the possibility that this model could put GPs at risk as there would be no responsibility to protect the professional standing of doctors involved in a claim.

The Committee recommended the Senedd agree to the general principles of the Bill, but the new scheme shouldn’t present a lesser offer to GPs in terms of protecting professional standing.

2. There’s no agreement yet on transferring liabilities to the Welsh Government

Under the proposals, all existing GP liabilities will transfer to the Welsh Government in return for a transfer of assets from the existing Medical Defence Organisations (MDOs). The liabilities have been estimated at £100million.

The transfer hasn’t yet been agreed but negotiations are ongoing and it’s hoped an agreement will be reached “in the near future”. However, the Medical Defence Union didn’t present a positive picture of the Welsh Government negotiations, saying that the level of asset transfer hasn’t yet been discussed and engagement has been lacking.

The Health Minister said the Bill won’t be affected if there’s no agreement with the MDOs, but the Committee said the government must engage in meaningful discussions to reach agreement on a fair and proportionate transfer of assets.

3. Clinical negligence laws need to be reformed

As hinted earlier, there was evidence that clinical negligence laws in EnglandandWales require reform, with MDOs saying the creation of state-backed indemnity schemes was a missed opportunity and a distraction. Claims for clinical negligence were diverting funds away from front line care.

A decision by the UK Government to change discount rates for personal injuries had big consequences. Responsibility for this appears to lie at UK level and the Committee believes that reform of the law was needed to address the root cause of the problem.

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