Medical practitioners are set to face a new legal requirement to hold adequate professional indemnity insurance. There is already an ethical obligation to do so, but new legislation is set to put this requirement on a statutory footing. The government has sought to reassure practitioners that the new law will not result in increased premiums. Ultimately, however, the Medical Council will determine the precise level of cover required for each specialty.  

The Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2014 (the “Bill”) was published on 1 August 2014. If enacted in its current form, practising medical practitioners will, for the first time, have a legal obligation to have adequate professional indemnity cover in place for civil claims. The Medical Council already requests that all medical practitioners confirm that they have medical indemnity cover when registering for the first time, and when renewing their registration annually.  The Medical Council’s Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics also states that medical practitioners "must ensure"that they have "adequate professional indemnity cover for all healthcare services" provided.

The proposed legislation gives the Medical Council the role of specifying the minimum levels of indemnity cover applicable to each medical specialty or class of medical practitioners. This will be published in Iris Oifigiúil after a consultation process with interested parties including the State Claims Agency.  The criteria the Medical Council will have regard to when determining the minimum level of cover to apply to each class of medical practitioners will include the level of risk generally inherent in the relevant medical speciality and the level of awards or settlements in civil claims. 

In light of the rising costs of professional indemnity cover, the government has sought to reassure medical practitioners that the Bill will not require them to pay more than what are currently normal premiums for adequate indemnity cover for their specialty.  As the Bill is aimed at ensuring patients are able to seek redress in the event of receiving negligent care from a practitioner, those medical practitioners not practising medicine, such as full-time lecturers, will not require professional indemnity cover.  

The Bill places the onus on medical practitioners to ensure they comply with the minimum level of cover relevant to their area of speciality. If a medical practitioner contravenes this requirement, the Medical Council will have the power to remove the practitioner’s registration 21 days after a request for evidence relating to the indemnity has been made and not complied with.  The medical practitioner may, however, be restored to the register by providing proof of indemnity cover within six months and on payment of the appropriate fee.  Additionally, failure to adhere to the requirement to hold indemnity cover may constitute grounds for a complaint to the Medical Council.

The Bill aims to ensure that members of the public will always have redress in the event of medical mishap or negligent care by making it a legal requirement that all medical practitioners practising in Ireland have adequate indemnity cover.  Given the mandatory nature of the requirement to have a minimum level of indemnity insurance cover and the sanctions that can be imposed for non-compliance, the most important issues for medical practitioners are likely to be the decision as to what constitutes adequate professional indemnity cover and the cost of obtaining that cover.