To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce a state-backed indemnity scheme for general practitioners in England.
My Lords, in October 2017, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced his intention to develop a state-backed indemnity scheme for general practice in England. The state-backed scheme is being designed to provide more stable, affordable cover for GPs and patients. We are working with stakeholders to design the scheme and are committed to implementing it from April 2019.
Will the proposed scheme cover all GP-related healthcare staff who provide services for the NHS and, if not, who will be excluded? Will the scheme cover historical liabilities, as was the case when the NHS clinical negligence scheme for trusts was introduced? What additional costs will the new scheme generate for the NHS?
The scheme is intended to cover primary medical care services, which will also include integrated urgent care services and NHS primary care provided in secure environments. The scheme will certainly cover future liabilities, and cover for historic liabilities will depend on discussions with stakeholders and achieving value for money. As for the cost, this is a complex negotiation with multiple partners, and we are not in a positon to give costs at this point without prejudicing commercial interests. Suffice it to say, one intention of the scheme is to provide better value for money than those currently in existence.
My Lords, the average GP paid indemnity costs that rose by 50% in a six-year period. That has had a knock-on effect of discouraging doctors from going into primary care and has been a factor in many leaving. It seems to me therefore that this is a matter of urgency, and so I am very pleased to hear that the scheme will be introduced in April next year. However, GPs are sorting out their indemnity insurance right now—they do it over the summer. What advice are the Minister and the Government giving GPs now to help them decide what the costs are? Given the shortage of GPs in this country, anything that the Secretary of State can do to encourage GPs into primary care would be a good thing.
I agree with the noble Baroness’s final point. Indeed, one reason for sorting out this scheme is that we know it is a barrier to people joining the profession and, unfortunately, encourages them to leave it. There is of course an urgency, but nevertheless it is a complex discussion with commercial partners. I can tell her that we are talking to GPs themselves and their representative organisations to make sure they understand what is at stake, what we intend to do and that we intend to introduce the new scheme in April.
My Lords, on 1 June, a DHSC spokesperson said:
“We are continuing to work closely with key stakeholders in the development of the scheme from April 2019”—
as the Minister said. The spokesperson went on:
“We will provide a further update in the near future”.
GPs need reassurance that this will not be kicked into the long grass. What is the department’s understanding of the “near future”—is it six weeks, six months or a year?
That is a very existential question. The point is that we need to introduce the scheme by April and are absolutely committed to that. There are some very big decisions to be made on the scheme design now. We have a new Secretary of State who is getting up to speed on these issues as we speak. Our intention is to make those decisions to confirm the design of the scheme and to be able to tell GPs and other stakeholders publicly as soon as possible. We are committed to the April 2019 deadline.
My Lords, is such a scheme currently available to general practitioners in any other part of the United Kingdom?
I can tell my noble friend that the scheme we are designing is for England, the jurisdiction that the department looks after. However, the Welsh Government have announced their intention to have a state-backed scheme and we are speaking to the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland to make sure that we act together in this regard.
My Lords, when the scheme is introduced, what plans are there to reduce the level of litigation in primary care, considering that the majority of primary care practitioners are independent contractors, and those who are not are employed by GP principals and not by the National Health Service?
The noble Lord is right to highlight this issue. It is important to state that the rising cost of indemnity is not driven by a poor or worsening safety record but by the volume of activity and the rising cost of the average claim. Not only do we need to make sure that we reduce those costs, for example, by introducing a fixed recoverable cost scheme, we also need to reduce the number of safety issues so that there are fewer claims to bring in the first place.
My Lords, is it not the case that the costs are rising because GPs do not have sufficient time to see their patients? It is all linked to the shortage of GPs, which means that they have to see more patients for shorter periods.
No, it is not.
My Lords, I declare the work that I do with dispensing doctors. A particular barrier to retaining and recruiting GPs in rural areas are the pension provisions, which is the case for all professions. Will my noble friend make representations to the authorities that be in this regard as that would be a major step forward for those now coming into the profession in their 30s and 40s?
My noble friend makes an excellent point and I will certainly do so. There is an attempt not just to recruit many more GPs into service but to recruit them into hard-to-reach areas, such as rural areas, through a targeted recruitment campaign. I am sure that that is one of the areas that we will want to look at.
My Lords, is it intended that locums will be covered by the scheme?
My understanding is that the scheme is for all providers of primary medical care services under GMS, PMS and APMS contracts.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. In reducing the problem of clinical negligence, it is vital to ensure that general practitioners are able to learn from the entirety of their clinical practice. As has been heard, many work in single-handed practices. How do Her Majesty’s Government propose to ensure that there is proper learning across the primary care system to reduce errors once mistakes have been made?
The noble Lord is quite right. I point him in the direction of the learning from deaths programme, which is attempting to do exactly that.