There are lots of things to think about when you start your journey to becoming a doctor, from the early days in medical school to thinking about what specialty you’d like to pursue. A bit like pension planning, medical indemnity also needs to be considered early as it is something that impacts your professional life long after you hang up your stethoscope, whether you’re taking time out for personal commitments, working abroad, or retiring from practice.
We’ve found that nearly half of claims are made two years after the incident has happened, while 15% are made after five years. While clinical negligence claims for doctors working in the NHS will be covered by the NHS indemnity scheme, other areas of practice won’t be covered. This includes private work, writing medical reports, coroner’s inquests and criminal and disciplinary investigations relating to your clinical practice.
It is therefore important to make sure you have adequate medical indemnity in place and this is something the GMC insists in paragraph 63 of Good medical practice, 2013. In addition to members being able to request assistance with these areas, the MDU also provides a 24 hour advice line, every day of the year, for medico-legal and ethical advice.
Students are signed up to occurrence membership when joining. If you were a member of the MDU at the time the incident took place and your membership is on an "occurrence basis", you can seek assistance. This could include clinical interactions with patients that may have occurred many years ago and, therefore, you may not become aware of them until you have retired from clinical practice or have taken a break.
If you have any questions about your membership, feel free to contact the membership team.
The following cases illustrate times when retired doctors and those taking a break from practice in the UK have had cause to call the MDU for assistance.
Case example: allegations of sexual assault
Dr A had been a member of the MDU since he was in medical school and was now a retired member. He had only occasionally needed to contact the MDU for medico-legal advice to assist him with issues that had arisen during his time in general practice. He had had very few complaints and had never been subject to any investigations related to his professional role. Dr A was very shocked therefore to be contacted by the police in relation to historic allegations of sexual assault, which had been made by a patient who was registered at the practice he used to work at.
The police wanted to interview Dr A under caution and advised him that he could have a solicitor present during the interview. Dr A contacted the MDU for support. As Dr A had been a member of the MDU at the time the alleged incident took place, he was able to request assistance.
A solicitor was instructed to represent Dr A at the interview and with the ongoing criminal investigation. In addition to this, the opinion of an expert was obtained which was supportive of the care Dr A provided to the patient. The case was closed by the police with no further action based on the evidence provided by the MDU solicitor on Dr A’s behalf. Dr A had performed an intimate examination on the patient, and this was found to be clinically indicated and had been carried out appropriately. Dr A did not, therefore, have to face a stressful criminal trial.
Case example: complications following treatment
Dr B had worked as a private consultant for a couple of years, when she decided to take some time out of clinical practice to have a family. Dr B was aware of a patient who had experienced some complications following treatment for a cardiac arrhythmia and Dr B had referred the patient to a colleague for ongoing care once she stopped practicing. The patient had needed further treatment due to the complication and decided to pursue a clinical negligence claim against Dr B. Dr B was concerned because she had taken a break from membership with the MDU.
Dr B contacted the MDU advice line to see if any assistance was available. As Dr B had been a member of the MDU at the time she treated the patient, the MDU’s claims department was able to assist her in dealing with the claimant’s solicitor, instructing an expert and ultimately defending the claim.
Case example: GMC investigation
Dr C had been working as a consultant orthopaedic surgeon for several years and had decided to take a sabbatical from the NHS to work abroad. Dr C remained registered with the GMC during this time. Unfortunately, a patient that Dr C had operated on three years before he left for his new job had developed complications of his knee replacement surgery and, knowing that Dr C no longer worked at the hospital, made a complaint directly to the GMC.
As Dr C was still on the GMC register, the GMC investigated. The GMC wrote to Dr C for his comments on an opinion it had obtained from an expert who had raised some concerns about his management of the patient. Dr C contacted the MDU. As Dr C had been a member of the MDU at the time the surgery was carried out, a medico-legal adviser in the MDU’s advisory department assisted Dr C, liaising with the GMC and instructing a solicitor to assist him. An expert opinion was sought by the MDU on behalf of Dr C and the solicitor assisted Dr C in responding to the allegations. The GMC was satisfied with Dr C’s response and decided to close the investigation without the need for a fitness to practice hearing.
Our commitment to you
You can practise with confidence because we at the MDU are on your side, and by your side.
Find out more about asking for assistance from the MDU if you leave the MDU, retire from practice or go on a break.
Dr Kathryn Leask
Dr Kathryn Leask
BSc (Hons) MBChB (Hons) LLB MA MRCPCH FFFLM MRCPathME DMedEth
Kathryn has been a medico-legal adviser with the MDU since 2007 and is a team leader, trainer and mentor in the medical advisory department. Before joining the MDU, she worked in paediatrics gaining her MRCPCH in 2002 and did her specialty training in clinical genetics. She has an MA in Health Care Ethics and Law, a Bachelor of Law and a Professional Doctorate in Medical Ethics. She is also a fellow of the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine and has previously been an examiner and deputy chief examiner for the faculty. Kathryn is currently a member of the faculty’s training and education subcommittee and a member of the Royal College of Pathologists (medical examiner).
See more by Dr Kathryn Leask