From January 2012, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will no longer provide professional indemnity cover for clinical negligence claims for nurses working in general practice. Instead, nurses facing claims in general practice will have to rely on their employers’ practice indemnity policy. In such claims, in contrast with the position currently, the GP defence organisations will no longer be able to recover any contribution and/or costs from the RCN in the event of negligence on the part of an employed nurse. It is important that GP practices carefully review the cover in place to ensure there are no gaps in cover.

There is a potential tension going forward as the Medical Defence Union has suggested that it will encourage nurses in extended clinical roles to take out personal cover, whereas the RCN has said that employed nurses do not need personal cover as their employer is vicariously responsible for their actions.

The change to the RCN contractual indemnity scheme should simplify the resolution of claims against a GP practice because, as the RCN rightly points out, encouraging division between individual practitioners in a practice “does nothing to enhance safety or improve the quality of care for patients” especially as there is “compelling evidence that most errors in health care are systemic”. It remains to be seen what the long-term effect of the change will be, especially on the premiums for GP practices.