What you need to know

All doctors are legally obliged to have adequate and appropriate indemnity in place as soon as they start practising in the UK.

As your medical defence organisation, we can help you where state-backed indemnity cannot. As well as providing indemnity, we offer guidance and medico-legal support with responding to complaints and other problems arising from clinical practice, including coroners' inquests or fatal accident inquiries, as well as criminal or disciplinary investigations.

Find out more about what indemnity is, why you need it and how the MDU can help below.

Frequently asked questions

What is medical indemnity?

Indemnity is the term for the financial support a doctor or other professional who is sued receives to defend a clinical negligence claim and, if required, compensate the patient.

NHS doctors are often state indemnified, so any claim against a doctor will usually be brought against the NHS body providing treatment. Doctors in private practice will need to ensure they have adequate indemnity or insurance in place for their clinical work.

However, state indemnity only goes so far. There may be occasions where you'll need help with a complaint or GMC investigation, which is where we can help. As well as providing indemnity, we offer ongoing support and advice that doctors won't get from the NHS, including help with responding to and dealing with complaints, as well as coroners' inquests or fatal accident inquiries, GMC investigations and more (see below).

Why do I need professional indemnity?

All doctors are legally obliged to have adequate and appropriate indemnity in place as soon as they start practising in the UK. The GMC also requires this as a professional duty ('Good medical practice' [2024], paragraph 101).

If you were sued, the amount of damages paid in compensation in some cases can run into millions of pounds. There are also the legal costs of defending the claim, which may be hundreds of thousands of pounds. You need to be able to access financial support to help you meet all the costs of defending claims - including paying the damages and the legal costs involved.

MDU membership can fill the gaps left by indemnity from NHS bodies, including support with coroners' inquests or fatal accident inquiries, GMC proceedings, complaints or disciplinary procedures, as well as legal advice and representation if needed.

When do I need professional indemnity?

You'll need to make sure you have adequate indemnity in place if a patient alleges they've been negligently affected by the treatment provided by you, as the doctor, and seeks financial compensation.

We help members by providing access to professional indemnity, as well as expert guidance and ongoing support during these difficult experiences, which state indemnity does not help with. Make sure you contact us with an issue or concern right away so we can help from the start, which may include writing an effective response to a complaint.

What's the difference between occurrence-based and claims-made membership?

When considering what type of medical indemnity to get, bear in mind that adverse incidents may not come to light until many months or years after your contact with a patient. This makes it very different to the types of insurance you may be more familiar with, such as for your car or house.

Your car or house insurance is likely to be on a claims-made basis. This means that you can request assistance providing that request is made during the time of your policy. This model generally works well for car insurance, as you're likely to know immediately if you've crashed your car.

Medical indemnity and insurance are also sometimes offered on a claims-made basis. An incident could occur during your claims-made period, but the patient is not yet aware of a problem incurred with treatment, and so no claim is made at the time. This means that once a claims-made period comes to an end, you'll need to arrange and pay for additional 'run-off' so that you have the necessary clinical negligence indemnity or insurance for incidents that have already occurred, but where the problem is yet to come to light.

In contrast, occurrence-based membership with the MDU means you have the reassurance that you can ask for our assistance as long as you are (or were) an MDU member at the time the incident happened. This applies even if you're no longer a member, have retired or stopped practising. Your estate can ask for our help even after your death.

See our member guide or contact our membership team to find out more.

What else can a medical defence organisation help me with?

We offer members expert guidance and personal support if your clinical competence or care of patients is questioned. This is not provided by state-backed or NHS indemnity. Read more in our Mind the Gap campaign.

Members can contact us with difficult ethical or medico-legal issues and speak to specially trained doctors and lawyers for free, at any time. This could be help with dealing with a complaint, the media, police or criminal investigations, as well as coroners' inquests and fatal accident inquiries.

Our medico-legal team is available between 8am and 6pm on Monday to Friday and we also provide a 24-hour advice line for medico-legal emergencies or urgent queries 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Do I need indemnity as a medical student?

Most medical schools will ask you to join a medical defence organisation in case you come across any medico-legal issues during your training.

Occasionally students encounter complaints during the clinical aspects of their course, and this may escalate beyond a local investigation and could lead to a fitness to practice investigation. In these cases, we can help provide support and advice every step of the way.

So while you won't be expected to treat patients or make independent decisions about care as a student, you never know when you may find yourself in need of support from your defence organisation. We've had more than 1,000 calls from students about medico-legal or ethical concerns in the last five years and opened more than 350 case files to support students.

It’s free to join the MDU as a student, and as well as access to medico-legal advice and support, we offer indemnity for electives and good Samaritan acts.

Read more about why NHS indemnity isn't enough.

Do I need indemnity as a locum doctor?

Locums working for NHS or HSC trusts will normally be indemnified by NHS or Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) indemnity schemes. Check your contract carefully in case you need to take further action to make sure you have adequate and appropriate indemnity for the work you'll be doing.

Bear in mind that NHS and HSC indemnity will be limited to claims. MDU membership can help with medico-legal investigations not included in those schemes, such as dealing with a complaint made to the GMC about your patient care.

If you're going to work as a locum GP, or locum for a private healthcare provider, you'll need to arrange adequate and appropriate indemnity for that work.

GMC guidance on indemnity

  • Doctors are legally obliged to have adequate and appropriate indemnity in place as soon as they start practising in the UK.

  • Indemnity arrangements should be adequate and appropriate for the risks and nature of your scope of practice.

  • NHS or HSC indemnity schemes won't be able to provide you with individual advice and help for other medico-legal matters from your clinical practice, such as complaints or disciplinary investigations. Check what support you can get from your defence organisation.

  • As a locum doctor, check your contract carefully to make sure you have adequate or appropriate indemnity in place. Note that NHS or HSC indemnity will only be limited to claims, not other medico-legal support.

Guidance and advice