Claims against GPs: Who Pays? The New Clinical Negligence Scheme for General Practice

If a GP is negligent and causes harm, who meets any claim for damages? Until 31st March 2019 GPs relied on defence organisations to which they paid a subscription. The defence organisations acted like insurers. They included the Medical Defence Union (MDU) and Medical Protection Society (MPS).

From 1st April 2019 a new system comes into force. NHS Resolution, which already meets claims against hospital Trusts, will now meet claims against GPs.

What negligent acts are covered?

The scheme covers liabilities incurred after 1st April 2019 which arise from acts or omissions by GPs or people working in a general practice setting. The actions must be connected to the diagnosis, care or treatment of a patient and result in personal injury or loss to a patient. So the scheme covers medical negligence. It would not cover, for instance, tripping or slipping accidents at a surgery, employment or breach of contract claims against the surgery.

Who is covered?

The scheme covers GPs but also other healthcare professional, such as the practice nurse or pharmacists. It also covers locums and administrative staff.

How does the scheme help patients?

The scheme is likely to be of benefit to people bringing claims for damages in a number of ways.

1. In the past a patient might have brought a claim against several GPs. The claim might for instance be that on several occasions they should have been referred to a specialist and diagnosis of their cancer was delayed as a result. That might have involved several defence organisations making decisions about how to respond to the claim. Those organisations may have taken different views about how to handle the claim and how much damages to pay, delaying settlement and making settlement more difficult. With one organisation only some claims may be streamlined.

2. Sometimes it is difficult to trace GPs who have retired and find out who their defence organisation was. NHS Resolution handling all claims will avoid that problem.

3. At other times there is uncertainty about whether a GP or locum is employed or self-employed. If they are employed, the GP partners will be liable to meet claims against them. If they are self-employed they may not. There can be uncertainty as to who a claim should be brought against. NHS Resolution handling all claims will avoid that uncertainty.

4. Some claims involve both GPs and hospital Trusts. NHS Resolution can pay periodical payments (annual payments for a fixed period or for life) alongside a lump sum whereas defence associations cannot – or at least any periodical payments they agree will not be secure. The new scheme will enable people to obtain periodical payments in appropriate cases in claims against GPs.

5. In some extreme cases there had been a risk that a defence organisation may not be able to meet very large awards of damages or that its liability may be limited. For instance Iain Paterson was a breast surgeon in Birmingham who performed inappropriate procedures on large numbers of women. There were so many claims against him that there was a risk of damages paid to those women being limited once the level of awards reached the limit of indemnity. There are also currently cases where defence associations will only pay damages up to £10 million. Whilst that sounds like a very large sum there are claims for very seriously injured people where the costs of meeting their care for life exceed £10 million. There is no risk of NHS Resolution being unable or unwilling to meet awards it is required to make.

The change is therefore to be welcomed and will be of benefit to many people bringing claims.

For more information about our GP negligence services, contact us.