The specialist health and medical law firm representing 65 victims of disgraced cosmetic surgeon, Dr Leslie Blackstock, is testing new reforms to medical indemnity laws to help its clients and other women gain justice and compensation for their suffering.
The Medical and Midwife Indemnity Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 came into effect on July 1. It streamlines various schemes and extends them to more insurers, in a more level playing field, who must provide universal cover to medical practitioners.
Catherine Henry, principal of Catherine Henry Lawyers, says the legislation and reformed medical indemnity schemes should provide greater certainty and protection for patients and health professionals.
Ms Henry says a current clause means that retired doctors under 65 are not necessarily covered by ‘run off cover’, which provides insurance even after a doctor stops working and paying premiums.
The NSW Medical Board suspended Dr Blackstock’s registration in 2017 and he has retired. Complaints made by Ms Henry’s clients and other women against Dr Blackstock include: procedures being performed without an anaesthetist; asking patients while sedated if they are satisfied with the appearance of their breasts; no examination or assessment pre procedure; surgery having to be redone multiple times; and incompetently managing complications from his surgery.
Ms Henry says Dr Blackstock’s insurer has already settled some clients’ claims but others are complicated by Dr Blackstock’s insurance being a “claims made and notified” scheme. He did not notify his insurer of the other women’s claims before retiring and ceasing to pay premiums.
“Although untested, our interpretation of the new legislation is that a medical practitioner retiring before the age of 65 is covered by Run off Cover regardless of the type of notification scheme,” Ms Henry says.
“We have started to lodge claims with the insurer,” she says.
“We didn’t want to leave our clients vulnerable to claims solely against Dr Blackstock’s unknown personal wealth.
“These women have suffered and deserve redress for loss of income, psychological trauma, and to cover the cost of additional surgery to correct Dr Blackstock’s mistakes.”
Ms Henry says medical indemnity is professional indemnity insurance for health practitioners. It pays the cost of claims against medical practitioners for medical malpractice proceedings. In Australia, all registered health professionals must be covered by indemnity insurance. Privately practising health practitioners must arrange their own indemnity insurance, while medical services provided under the public health system are covered by state and territory professional indemnity arrangements as part of their employment arrangements.
“As little as 25 years ago, doctors and health professionals – unlike other professionals including lawyers and accountants – weren’t required to have professional indemnity insurance.
“The current scheme was established by the Federal Government in 2002 to essentially subsidise medical indemnity after Australia’s largest medical indemnity provider, United Medical Protection, went into liquidation – leading to a spike in premiums.
“The schemes play an important role in supporting affordable health care and ensuring that patients who make legitimate claims against medical practitioners and midwives are able to be compensated for any loss they have suffered.”
A First Principles Review of the Medical Indemnity Fund was undertaken in 2018. It found that the schemes should continue, were largely fit for purpose, but could be improved. The new law removes two now redundant acts and amends three acts.
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