Understanding medical indemnity insurance: A comprehensive guide for doctors


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As a medical professional, you will know all too well just how significant having strong attention to detail can be in your day-to-day practice.

Put simply, without the correct level of understanding, concentration and scrupulous precision, things may not work out exactly as you had planned.

The same can also be true when it comes to taking out a medical indemnity insurance policy. Without the right type of cover, tailored around your specific experience, duties and personal circumstances, you may not be protected in the way you think you are.

In this comprehensive guide, we will take you through all you need to know about medical indemnity insurance, including what it is, why it's so important and how you can source the right type of cover for you.

What is medical indemnity insurance?

While no doctor would ever set out to make a mistake, even with the best training and all the experience in the world, things can still sometimes go wrong.

In most working environments, mistakes don't carry major consequences. But, in a doctor’s line of work, they can – leading to potentially serious consequences for both patients and the doctors themselves.

Also known as medical malpractice insurance, medical indemnity insurance provides doctors and their practices with financial protection should mistakes ever happen.

It protects them against any potential patient claims that could arise from medical malpractice, errors or negligence, covering the associated costs and fees brought about through the process.

The importance of medical indemnity insurance

In today's society, patients are sadly growing more and more litigious, ready and willing to take legal action in situations of alleged medical malpractice or negligence. This greatly adds to the pressure of working in healthcare, as it increases the likelihood of malpractice claims being made.

Having a suitable medical indemnity insurance policy in place provides you with a safety net, removing some of that added pressure and allowing you to get back to doing what you’ve been so highly trained to do.

What are the key benefits of medical indemnity coverage?

Medical indemnity insurance can provide peace of mind in a number of ways. Some of the key benefits of taking out a tailored insurance policy often include:

  • Financial protection for professional and personal assets
  • Access to legal support and expertise
  • Professional reputation protection
  • Coverage for defence costs (including attorney fees, expert witness fees and court expenses)
  • Access to risk management resources, training programs and educational materials

Is medical indemnity insurance compulsory for surgeons?

In a word, yes. The Health Care and Associated Professionals Order 2014 requires all regulated healthcare professionals to be covered by a professional indemnity insurance policy.

However, finding the type and level of cover you need will largely depend on three key factors: your specialism, the stage you are in your career, and whether you work solely in the NHS or undertake an element of work in the private sector.

If you work for the NHS, you will likely receive medical indemnity from a clinical negligence scheme related to where you're based in the UK.

However, if you operate as a consultant in the private sector, the General Medical Council states that you must have “adequate and appropriate insurance or indemnity in place”.

Medical indemnity insurance is a complicated area and there isn't a one-size-fits-all insurance policy that will suit all medical professionals. That's why it is important to talk to an insurance broker with specialist experience in this area – give our team a call to discuss your requirements.

What types of incidents does medical indemnity insurance cover?

If a patient decides to make a claim after you make a mistake while fulfilling your duties as a doctor, medical indemnity insurance can provide protection across a number of surgical-related incidences. These include:

  • Surgical errors
  • Postoperative complications
  • Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis
  • Failure to obtain consent

It’s important to note that this list is not exhaustive and your policy may also be able to cover several other related issues. For further information on this, please contact our team.

Types of medical indemnity insurance cover

Without the right type of medical indemnity protection in place, you could find yourself personally liable for substantial financial loss. This could not only jeopardise your professional and personal assets but also your reputation as a healthcare professional.

To avoid this, it’s important to take out a contract-certain medical indemnity insurance policy that fits you and your responsibilities by talking to a specialist broker.

Generally speaking, most doctors will be protected by one of two types of coverage: discretionary or contract-certain.

Discretionary cover

Discretionary indemnity cover is typically provided by Medical Defence Organisations (MDOs) and, as its name suggests, is operated on a discretionary basis. This means that the MDO has the discretion to decide whether to cover a particular claim or incident.

Under discretionary cover, the MDO will assess each claim individually and authorise whether to provide financial assistance, legal representation or support for a claim made against you. They have no contractual obligation to provide you with any support.

Many doctors will have this type of cover without realising that it may not always provide sufficient cover.

Contract-certain cover

Otherwise known as contract-based or contract of insurance cover, contract-certain cover operates under a contractual agreement between the doctor and the insurance provider. It offers specific coverage based on the terms and conditions outlined in the insurance policy you take out with them.

The key difference between contract-certain cover and discretionary cover is that it provides a legally binding agreement that obligates the insurance provider to offer legal support should a claim be made within the defined scope of the policy you have with them.

Your insurance policy will have clearly outlined coverage limits, terms, and exclusions, providing you with the added reassurance that you’ll be protected should a policy-appropriate claim be filed against you.

Medical indemnity policy types

As well as choosing between discretionary cover through an MDO or contract-certain cover from an insurance provider, you will also need to decide which type of medical indemnity insurance policy is right for you. The main forms of coverage include:

  • Claims-made – this covers claims made during the period of your policy, relating to any work undertaken from the retroactive date of your policy. Here’s an example.
  • Occurrence-based – this offers protection for claims arising from events that happened while the policy was in effect, regardless of when the claim was filed and whether the indemnity is still provided by that insurer.
  • Run-off – also known as ‘Extended Reporting Period (ERP)’, this ensures ongoing protection for doctors by extending coverage for a period that can be as much as 25 years after the doctor ceased practicing.

Finding the right policy for you will depend on your specific needs, as there may be certain limits or exclusions you’re not aware of with certain types of coverage.

Always speak to a specialist medical indemnity insurance broker if you’re not sure.

How to find the right medical indemnity insurance broker

The whole purpose of medical indemnity insurance is to provide peace of mind, so it's important to choose an insurance broker you can trust.

With this in mind, here are some key questions to ask when deciding on an insurer to move ahead with. 

What is their reputation like and are they financially stable?

You should choose an insurance provider that is financially stable and has a strong reputation in the industry.

To find this out for yourself, take some time to research their history, ratings and reviews to ensure they provide reliable coverage, handle claims efficiently, and offer excellent customer support.

Do they specialise in medical indemnity insurance?

It’s important to opt for an insurance provider that specialises in medical indemnity insurance and offers policies specifically to healthcare professionals.

Insurers like this will have a more in-depth understanding of the specific risks and challenges associated with the medical profession, helping provide tailored coverage and specialist support.

How do they handle claims?

Choosing an insurer that manages claims in an efficient and timely way is crucial should you ever need to go through the claims process.

Look for an insurer that has a dedicated team experienced in dealing with medical malpractice cases, offers easily accessible legal advice and will put your mind at ease should you ever need their support.

Do they provide access to risk management resources?

Education can be vital when mitigating risks, improving patient safety and knowing how to handle any claims that are made against you.

Insurance providers that offer risk management resources like educational materials, training programs, and best practice guidelines can help you not only maintain a high standard of care but also minimise any potential medical malpractice incidents.

How Howden Medical Indemnity can help

Here at Howden Medical Indemnity, we have created tailored contract-certain medical indemnity insurance policies for numerous doctors throughout the UK.

Our team are specially trained to deal with all sorts of medical malpractice claims, helping maintain the reputations of hardworking healthcare professionals, while also protecting your personal and professional assets.

For further information about us, the types of policies we offer – or if you have any more general medical indemnity queries – we would be more than happy to help. Simply get in touch with us on 020 7623 3806 or email us to find out more.