Indemnity – your questions answered

Indemnity – your questions answeredOne of the first decisions you need to make as a young dentist is about your professional indemnity. It can be a confusing area. Head of the Dental Defence Union, John Makin, answers your top five queries.

1. Why do I need professional indemnity?

Even when carefully managing risks when treating patients, dental professionals can sometimes face complaints, claims or GDC investigations. It’s sensible to have expert support in place to protect your reputation and livelihood should you face criticism. But it is also a GDC requirement to have indemnity to protect patients in the event of a claim for compensation.

Dental Defence Union (DDU) membership offers members expert guidance, personal support and a robust defence in addressing dento-legal investigations. We can also pay compensation to patients on your behalf should a claim succeed.

One foundation dentist member told us he valued an organisation that is ‘easy to get hold of and can candidly discuss your concerns. The DDU is the most communicative towards young dentists and is readily available to help when starting your dental journey by incorporating a lot of resources during dental school and answering any queries you may have’.

2. What is the difference between the indemnity provided by a dental defence organisation like the DDU and that provided by an insurer?

The majority of dental professionals are members of a dental defence organisation (DDO), like the DDU. As a not for profit mutual organisation, our reason for being is to support members. The MDU, established in 1885, is our parent company.  MDU has guided, supported and defended members ever since.

With DDU membership, you can ask for assistance as long as you held a membership at the time of the incident. Even if you no longer hold a membership or have since stopped practising.

Commercial insurers need to return a profit for shareholders. They offer indemnity policies and regard both types of indemnity as adequate and appropriate by the GDC.

But you will often need to buy additional cover if you decide to leave an insurer and move to another provider. For example, if premiums increase, the provider declines to offer you further cover, or you stop working. This is to insure you for past periods of practice from which claims can still arise many years later and is known as run off cover. It can be prohibitively expensive to buy for an adequate period and it may only be included for death, disability or retirement.

3. What support can I expect from my provider?

Indemnity for claims is just one reason to have professional indemnity in place. Dental professionals can face a number of investigations during a career which is why it’s important to have experts on hand, who understand what you are going through. DDU members have access to benefits, including:

  • Expert dento-legal advice from dental professionals on our 24-hour helpline for questions on confidentiality, patient consent and more
  • Specialist legal representation and assistance with GDC, disciplinary and even criminal investigations and hearings relating to clinical work
  • Free contract checking and advice service for associate agreements
  • Learning and development resources, including free verifiable CPD with our online courses, webinars, case studies and advice
  • Free DDU app containing case studies, advice, proof of membership and membership card
  • Help dealing with press attention.

4. What about the cost of indemnity?

The cost of DDU membership reflects the risk members face at different stages of their career. However, don’t forget that you can access a number of benefits. These include legal advice and support with the myriad of investigations you may face.

It’s worth bearing in mind that it takes time for any claim to be notified. In fact, around 40% of dental negligence claims are reported more than two years after the date the patient was treated and almost 20% are reported more than five years later. The type of policies offered by insurers often appear cheaper at the outset but the cost is likely to rise thereafter.

5. Could an indemnity provider refuse to support me?

For the DDU’s part, that would be extremely rare. Over a recent three-year period, the DDU assisted members with 99.6% of requests. Our Member Guide sets out clearly what you can expect from us.

Indemnity assistance is provided at our Board of Management’s discretion in accordance with our Memorandum and Articles of Association. This arrangement gives us flexibility to respond to members’ circumstances.

During the coronavirus pandemic we tailored our subscriptions. We also offered refunds to meet members’ changing working patterns.

An insurance provider undertakes to pay claims that meet the terms and conditions of the policy. When purchasing insurance, one must understand the small print and the attached conditions. The Financial Conduct Authority brought a test case during the pandemic to clarify the policy wording of business interruption insurance, highlighting this.

For more information visit the website, follow the DDU on Twitter @the_ddu, like the Facebook page or call the dento-legal helpline on 0800 374 626.

This article first appeared in Young Dentist magazine.

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