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Time to crack GP ‘indemnity abdication’

15 November 2011

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GPs have been allowed to get away with “abdicating” from their indemnity cover provision responsibilities “for too long”, it is claimed.

Following the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) announcement that it will withdrawal indemnity cover for practice nurses, readers of MiP‘s sister magazine Nursing in Practice have expressed their bitter disappointment and fear over the move.

Gail Adams, Head of Nursing at Unison, told MiP it is “about time we crack the practice” of GPs removing themselves from indemnity provision.

While personal indemnity cover does provide reassurance to practice nurses, which Adams claimed is especially important in the “increasingly litigious society we now live in”; she argued the RCN’s removal may be no bad thing.

She said it may lead to a recognition of the need for investment in training for practice nurses – as GPs will better understand the danger behind asking a practice nurse to work “beyond their competencies at the drop of a hat”.

Chris Cox, a Legal Director at the RCN, told MiP he “entirely appreciates the anxiety the organisation’s policy change has caused”, but said the area has been subject to “continual misunderstandings, confusion and ignorance”.

Cox claimed the move has been falsely portrayed as a change that will affect practice nurses personally.

Under the policy change, the RCN will still provide indemnity cover for practice nurses for work they undertake on a voluntary or self-employed basis and those carrying out ‘Good Samaritan’ acts.

The responsibility for the provision of indemnity cover for work carried out under a practice nurse’s contract of employment will now shift to GPs, said Cox.

“GPs are vicariously liable for the actions of their staff – that is not an option,” he said.

“It is up to GPs as employers to communicate with their Medical Defence Organisations (MDOs) to ensure their staff are covered – this is not a conversation that should include practice nurses.

“This change shouldn’t in any way place practice nurses at risk.”

Cox said there is “no legal or professional obligation” for practice nurses to pay for personal indemnity cover out of his or her own pocket and said the RCN will “assist” its members in resisting pressure from GPs to do so.

Even if the RCN do see a “significant” number of members leave the organisation in a protest move, Cox confirmed the withdrawal of indemnity cover will go ahead and will not be reinstated in the future.

He also said the policy change will not lead to an adjustment in subscription fees for practice nurses as the move serves to “put them in the same boat as all our other members”.