Monday, 28 July 2008

(Un)Professional Indemnity

There was an interesting point raised regarding insurance for nutritionists in the comments following Ben Goldacre's latest Bad Science column. I thought it deserved expanding on and as this is actually an area I do know something about its time me to take another random leap into bad science blogging (because music and politics just aren't enough...)

Firstly I want to point out that the victim in this case should be extremely relieved that there was any professional indemnity cover in place at all, shockingly the only people who are required by law to have P.I. cover are lawyers, accountants and financial advisers. It would appear it is a requirement for membership of BANT (The British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy), but as has been pointed out on Bad Science in the past anyone can call themselves a nutritionist with or without qualifications or memberships of professional bodies. Of course a claim could still have been pursued without there being insurance cover in place but with a claim this size (around £1.5million being claimed) you have no chance of seeing the bulk of the damages unless the person you are claiming from is extremely wealthy. What I am struggling to understand is how nutritionists get P.I. cover in the first place. I have found a standard P.I. policy wording online here, where section 2.1 states:

"Insurers agree, subject to the terms of this policy to indemnify the insured, subject to the indemnity limit for claims, against any claim (including claimant's costs and expenses) in respect of any civil liability which arises out of the conduct of professional business by reason of any negligent act negligent error or negligent omission occurring or committed in good faith by the insured and/or others expressly authorised to act for and/or on behalf of the insured."

From my point of view as a claims handler I would struggle to try and defend any claim arising out of nutritionists advice unless a sound scientific basis could be found (yeah, that's gonna happen...) I can't see how it can possibly not be considered negligent to advise someone to follow dietary advice which has no proof of safety and efficacy.

I am very surprised insurers are willing to grant cover on these terms, I suspect it is mainly down to them not looking at what it is nutritionists do in enough detail, hopefully the massive pay-out in this case will be enough to make them take another look at who it is they're actually providing insurance for and lead to massive premium increases/refusal to place cover when they realise their clients are regularly giving advice which could be actively harmful.

I'd like to try and get hold of a policy specifically written for a nutritionist in order to see if there is any difference in the wording but I suspect with most of them being individual practitioners/small partnerships they wouldn't have individually tailored policies and the one I linked to above is probably pretty much all they get. If this is correct, I would strongly encourage anyone who has suffered any ill-effects (which they weren't warned about) after visiting a nutritionist to contact a good solicitor as I'm confident a case could be made on the basis that their advice goes against medical science.

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