Is medical indemnity insurance becoming unaffordable for doctors?

(you can get quotations from the PII Hub)

Doctor's medical indemnity insurance can be likened to a business premise's public liability insurance: something that needs to be in place in case something bad happens to a customer/ patient while they are making use of the services and products on offer. Given the many horror stories about the litigation happy American market, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is an issue that only affects the USA, with the UK trailing far behind in the insurance stakes.


Far from it. In fact, medical malpractice suits have been falling year on year in America. This is for a number of reasons, firstly a number of states have put caps on the emotive compensation (the 'pain and suffering' payments) which used to vastly inflate pay-outs to plaintiffs, as well as more tightly regulating the whole business of medical suits. Add to this, increased training and vigilance on the part of doctors to ensure that no action they take can possibly be translated into a court case, and it becomes easier to understand how the problem is diminishing. In the case of one survey of insurance providers, the number of suits fell from 15,000 to 8,900 between 2003 and 2014, while costs dropped to under five thousand dollars per year for many US doctors. (NB Medical costs, however, have increased. This is believed to be, in part at least, because doctors are ordering excessive tests, performing unnecessary exploratory surgeries and prescribing unneeded medications 'just in case' in order to avoid future lawsuits)


In the United Kingdom however, medical litigation seems to be a growth industry. High risk specialists such as gynaecologists and anaesthesiologists have faced demands of up to £46,000, while one doctor who works predominantly 'out of hours'; that is to say, is on duty when the doctors' surgeries are closed for the day or for the weekend, faced an increase from £8,000 to £30,000 over two years. Her work record was perfect, she had faced no complaints: the increase was purely due to her insurers reweighting the risk faced by doctors working anti-social hours. The doctor in this case did manage to renew her insurance at a lower rate by switching providers but regulators in the industry fear that her case may just be the tip of the iceberg as her renewal in May was early compared to the average renewal of many of her colleagues.

This steep increase in medical indemnity insurance comes at a time when the NHS and the medical profession as a whole feels under threat from the stringent austerity cuts imposed by the Minister for Health. Doctors in the UK used to work very long hours, with a great deal of 'out of hours' time making their lives fairly anti-social: but this was rewarded with a relatively decent basic salary to which was added a number of benefits and allowances. The austerity cuts now threaten to sweep away most, if not all, of these extra payments, replacing them with a token 'increase' in basic pay. This new system could result in doctors working even longer hours for less pay, with many medical professionals leaving the country to practise elsewhere in the world, or leaving the profession to work in other industries. A quadrupling of medical indemnity insurance is sure to exacerbate this problem even more…

 

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