Months into the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the details of an indemnity scheme aimed at protecting GPs have still not been finalised.
- The federal government argues GPs are currently protected under an indemnity scheme announced by the Prime Minister in June
- But Australian Medical Association President Omar Khorshid said nothing had been locked in
- Doctors are pushing for a no-fault compensation scheme, which is operating in several other countries
At a late-night press conference in June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an indemnity scheme for GPs giving out the AstraZeneca vaccine in a bid to get the rollout back on track.
However, a spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt has conceded that the scheme has not yet been resolved.
“The details of the scheme are currently being finalised with the peak bodies,” the spokesman said.
“As said at the time of the announcement, the scheme takes effect from the commencement of the vaccination program in 2021.”
While the government argues GPs are currently protected under that program and have been since February, Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Omar Khorshid said nothing had been locked in.
“Right now, if a GP was found to be negligent in the way they had delivered the vaccine and that had contributed to the harm, then the GP would be liable for the payout and that would be covered by the GP’s insurance,” Dr Khorshid said.
“It requires the injured party to prove the doctor was actually negligent, not just prove they’ve been injured.
The AMA and other peak medical groups are pushing for a “no-fault” compensation scheme.
There are similar programs in dozens of countries including the US and the UK, funded through a range of measures like taxes or a vaccine surcharge.
Associate professor Nick Wood, from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Medicine and Health, said if that approach was adopted here, Australians affected by vaccines would not have to demonstrate their doctor was negligent, avoiding the often lengthy and expensive court process.
“You don’t have to prove anything, you just have to show you did indeed have that particular adverse event and it’s independently verified — but you don’t have to fight for it, so to speak,” he said.
“It’s designed for the community, so if you get a rare adverse effect from a vaccine that’s administered properly and under the guidelines, that person is entitled to compensation under these schemes which exist in many countries including the UK and US.”
Royal Australian College of GPs president Karen Price said without a no-fault scheme, GPs could risk being caught up in ongoing legal battles as their insurance premiums rise.
“We don’t want our indemnity costs to go up which means GPs across the country would be basically paying for public health rollout in terms of the insurance,” Dr Price said.
“It is a very complicated scheme, and we want it to be patient-centric we want patients to have minimal need to go through a complicated legal process.”
Scheme ‘could give GPs confidence to encourage AstraZeneca for younger patients’
While Melbourne-based GP Anita Munoz is willing to vaccinate people under 60 with AstraZeneca, she said many of her colleagues were not.
“There’s a concern there’s a lack of insurance to cover the patient should there be a side-effect so I have little doubt a really well documented and clearly explained insurance scheme would do a lot to assuage people’s concerns about that,” she said.
“Understandably there are GPs out there that think having to go through a legal process because a patient needs compensation for what we know is [an] extremely rare but not impossible side effect feels like it would just be the straw that would break their back.
“Unless there is an appropriate compensation scheme where they don’t have to go through months and years of an indemnity process, they feel like they can’t participate in the vaccine program outside of what is the current ATAGI process.”
Dr Khorshid said that reluctance was largely because Pfizer was the preferred vaccine for Australians under 60 outside of Greater Sydney, due to the risk of an extremely rare blood clotting disorder, thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS).
But Dr Khorshid said concern over whether GPs were fully covered in the event of such a reaction had also played a part.
“This is of course only going to happen if a patient asks for AstraZeneca, but at least you won’t have GPs trying to talk people out of AstraZeneca just because they’re worried they might get blamed for giving a vaccine that wasn’t consistent with the expert advice.”
The ABC understands the federal government will meet some of the peak medical bodies later today to discuss the plan.