GPs in Northern Ireland face soaring costs from legal claims following a major technical adjustment to the calculation system, a defence union has warned.
The proposals have been brought forward by the region’s Department of Justice and would mean massively escalating costs for lifetime awards. The Medical Defence Union warned this could mean an increase in indemnity costs for practices, removing millions of pounds from NHS care. Normally awards for future costs are reduced by a discount rate, allowing for the potential to invest compensation.
The discount rate in Northern Ireland has been set at 2.5% – but now the regional government proposes switching it to being minus 1.75%, increasing rather than reducing the value of lifetime awards. In England and Wales the rate is now minus 0.25%. The MDU says the English system has already doubled the value of many awards.
Dr Matthew Lee, from the MDU, said: The timing of this change could hardly be worse – after making such immense sacrifices in the fight against COVID-19 over the past 12 months, GPs in Northern Ireland now face marked increases in their indemnity subscriptions because of the government’s decision. A discount rate change of this magnitude will have a dramatic impact on health and social care funding and on hardworking GPs across Northern Ireland. GPs in Northern Ireland do not have state indemnity for claims and fund their own indemnity arrangements. They are already struggling with the highest indemnity costs in any part of the UK.”
Dr Lee added: “We are in discussions with the Department of Health about what actions could be taken by the Executive to shield primary care in Northern Ireland from the financial implications of this new rate. We are concerned that without steps being taken, NHS GPs could be forced to retire early or leave the profession. This is something the NHS can ill afford, especially in the midst of a pandemic, and would be undesirable for GPs and patients alike.”