January 2021
Dhillon Hirani (Blogger)
4th Year Medical Student, Queen Mary UoL

The start of medical school marks the beginning of your life as a medical professional. Importantly, this means your actions (both medical and non-medical!!) can be scrutinised by the GMC (General Medical Council). The unfortunate reality is that mistakes can and do often happen, some of these during medical school. Whether it is something you did outside of university in your spare time or something that happened on campus or placement, medical schools are always concerned about your professionalism. Any incidents can result in local investigations by your medical school and potential referral to the GMC if a serious issue is found. 


‘Medical Indemnity’ provides you with support and a certain level of defence in the off chance something goes wrong during medical school or your working life. This indemnity is provided for some areas by your medical school and other areas by medical defence organisations and is why students should be joining one from day one of medical school. The best thing about it is that it’s completely FREE for medical students. Hooray!


The world of medico-legal defence will be new to many of you so let’s break it down.



What does medical indemnity mean?


Medical indemnity is effectively protection against medical professionalism issues that may occur during medical school or your working life as a doctor. As mentioned earlier, these incidents may take place within your student or working life, or in your spare time.


Why is access to medico-legal advice as a student important?


As well as from doctors, medical schools and the GMC expect high standards from medical students in and outside of university. 


There have been many occurrences where a student’s behaviour can impact their fitness to practice. This commonly ensues from events outside of medical school with allegations such as drug and alcohol misuse, health concerns, probity or unprofessional behaviour. 


Even within medical school medico-legal issues can occur during clinical placements whilst dealing with patients. These are all serious issues that can often lead to investigations by the medical school questioning a students’ fitness to practice and considerations of de-registration. 


The GMC set out the standards for medical students in their guide and any issues can lead to question marks placed over your studies and career. 


Fortunately, medical defence organisations can offer free medico-legal advice and support for any investigations made on medical student members to help them defend themselves against complaints and claims.



When might I need to contact my defence union as a student?


If you’re concerned about a situation that has occurred (e.g. conflict or mistake) or there are any allegations placed over your professionalism as a medical student then early contact with your defence union is key.


Medical defence unions offer free helplines that you can contact for advice and support whenever these situations arise.


However, as we will discuss more later, aid from medical defence unions stretches beyond just medico-legal issues with organisations offering sponsorships for society events, textbook discounts and more! 

 

It’s important to remember that any legal issue, inside or outside of university, can impact your medical career. Therefore, it’s important to contact your defence union in either of these situations.



How can my defence union help with my elective indemnity?


A great benefit of medical defence unions is that their medico-legal support stretches beyond just the UK. Most countries, including the UK, will require elective protection before you undergo your elective. Medical defence unions offer this protection for free to ensure you are supported around the world. 


Note: It is worth checking which countries are protected by the medical defence organisation you plan to join.



Do NHS doctors need indemnity or insurance (your legal obligations)?

 

The GMC state that “You must make sure you have adequate insurance or indemnity cover so that your patients will not be disadvantaged if they make a claim about the clinical care you have provided in the UK.” 


In a clinical scenario, medical indemnity (a similar word to insurance) protects both patients and doctors in the unlikely event that a patient feels unfairly treated and makes a claim against a clinician. It ensures that patients receive compensation if deemed appropriate and also protects the doctor from personal debt. 


In NHS care, medical indemnity is provided somewhat by the NHS as the employer, but this is incomplete as we will discuss below. 



Does the NHS provide indemnity insurance? 


When working in an NHS trust, healthcare workers will have some level of indemnity from the NHS. The NHS, however only give indemnity for clinical negligence claims that are part of your licensed clinical NHS work. They will not offer support for any private work, GMC investigations, criminal investigations, coroner inquests, good samaritan acts, and neither will they help respond to patient complaints. 


This is where a medical defence organisation is necessary because they will offer support for these issues and will also give individualised advice to members unlike the NHS. 



Does the British Medical Association (BMA) provide indemnity?


Unfortunately not. The BMA is a trade union for medical students and doctors who negotiate on matters such as working pay and rights as well as offering guidance to all clinicians. 


They do not however offer indemnity/insurance but can help sign-post students or doctors to support (e.g. medical defence organisations).



How much do doctors pay for medical insurance?


There are different types of indemnity that can be offered to doctors by medical defence organisations. The most common is called ‘occurrence based’ indemnity which gives protection for any incidents that occur whilst you are a member, irrelevant of whether you are a member at the time the claim is actually made. 


The price of this indemnity varies with your level of training. Following medical school, foundation year doctors pay from £10 a year, which increases as you become more qualified, take on more responsibility and possibly begin to deliver private healthcare.



How much do medical students pay for medical insurance?


Medical students can get medical indemnity for free from medical defence organisations like the Medical Defence Union (MDU). These free memberships often offer much more than just indemnity as listed below. Definitely sign up right away!



What are the benefits to signing up with the MDU?


We are partnered with the Medical Defence Union (MDU) who are one of the leading medical defence organisations in the UK. They offer free membership to all medical students - including some great perks highlighted below:

 

Be prepared and sign up before the start of term: https://www.themdu.com/join-mdu/medical-student


Author: Dhillon Hirani

Editor: Abdul-Rahman Abbas



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