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Do agency nurses need their own insurance?


Female nurse meeting patient

Earlier this year, the Royal College of Nursing voiced its concerns over the UK’s shortage of NHS nurses. This came on the back of a survey of its members, who reported a decline in the quality of patient care caused by staffing issues.

With one in ten nurse posts in England currently unfilled, hospitals, clinics, and care homes have to rely on agency nurses to take the pressure off their workforce.

Which makes agency nursing a tempting prospect – with a higher pay rate and flexibility over when and where they work motivating some nurses to make the switch.

That said, agency nurses are as accountable for their care as NHS ones. And while the NHS takes care of your insurance while you work for them, this isn’t always the case for agency nurses.

Allegations of negligence are often a case of when not if. Which makes checking whether your nurses’ indemnity cover is fit for purpose a top priority.

Too little cover and you could be handed a hefty legal and compensation bill if a patient dies, gets sick, or is injured in your care, and there’s an inquiry. Or struck off the register entirely.

Staying on the right side of the law

By law, all nurses who practice in the UK must have nurses’ indemnity insurance. Cover should be valid from July 2014, regardless of when they first started working.

No surprise, then, that professional bodies like the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) list nurses’ indemnity among their conditions for signing up.

What’s more, members have to ‘revalidate’ their membership every three years to prove they’re ‘fit to practise’. Which means self-declaring, and occasionally showing proof, of having nurses’ indemnity in place.

While RCN membership includes an indemnity scheme that covers agency nurses, some are excluded on the basis of their employment status. This can include if your contract is with an agency or directly with your place of work.

It’s important to note that the RCN’s scheme doesn’t cover work that's carried out under a contract of employment. So if the agency you work for operates through an umbrella company, then you might be excluded. That's because most umbrella companies employ their workers before acting as an intermediary between them and their agency.

If I’m an agency nurse, am I covered by my agency’s insurance?

There’s no simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to this, unfortunately. Whether or not your agency covers your insurance depends on how they’re set up and whether they classify you as an employee.

It’s crucial you know where you stand insurance-wise. If you don’t, you should check with your agency as soon as possible.

As a rough guide, though, if you’re an agency nurse working in an NHS setting, then you should be covered. But if you work in a non-NHS setting, like a nursing home, then this might not be the case. It’s possible then you’ll have to arrange your own insurance.

If your agency processes its payroll through an umbrella company, there’s a good chance your insurance is already covered. Umbrella companies often hire their workers and so are obliged to take on employers’ responsibilities – including taking care of their employees’ insurance. Some agencies do ask that you buy it yourself though, so you should check the terms of your contract carefully.

Either way, it’s good to make a regular habit of checking your insurance arrangements to make sure you’re covered. Especially if your scope of practice, employment, or contracts are likely to change.

What insurance do agency nurses need?

Nurses’ indemnity insurance is the legally required one. That’s medical malpractice and professional indemnity insurance rolled into one.

To break those two down a bit…

Medical malpractice insurance covers bodily injury, illness, or death of clients when caused by your negligence. You’d need it if you delivered sub-standard care to your patient, causing their health to decline. Or if you gave someone the wrong dose of medicine, triggering further health complications (and a round of legal headaches for you).

Professional indemnity insurance covers losses caused by things like breach of care, confidentiality, or dishonesty. If you incorrectly measured a client for a specialist bit of equipment that they were unable to use or return, say.

Some indemnity policies cover ‘Good Samaritan’ acts, that is, where you leap in to help someone while off-duty. It’s up to you whether you’d like this cover or not, though.

As for other types of nurses’ insurance, public liability covers your legal expenses and compensation if you accidentally damage something or someone at work. Useful if you’re often thrown into new settings where expensive equipment and sharp instruments are likely to get lost, damaged, or dropped.

And if you’re keeping client records electronically, you might want cyber insurance, to cover the cost of dealing with data breaches, hacks, and cybercrime.

How much cover do agency nurses need?

The Nursing and Midwifery Council stresses the need for all practising nurses to have ‘appropriate indemnity cover’. They define this as “an indemnity arrangement which is appropriate to your role and scope of practice and its risks”.

Nurses’ indemnity usually starts at around £100K’s worth of cover, stretching to £5 million or even more. To work out how much you need, you first need to consider what you do. And then how much it would cost you if something went wrong.

Treat yourself

Hopefully, you’ll never be in the position of a claim being made against you. That said, if things do go wrong and someone sues you, it could be financially ruinous. Medical negligence claims can run into many hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Of course, you can always speak to a broker (like us) before you decide how much cover to buy. The more you can find out, the better prepared you'll be for any nasty bumps ahead.

After all, nurses know all about ‘duty of care’. Why not practice some self-care too?

Get more information on nurses' indemnity insurance. Or call 0345 222 5391 to speak to a friendly expert.

Image used under license from Shutterstock.

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