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Steve Troup is a member of the ARCS Executive Committee and Chair of the Embryology SIG.

I must start by emphasising that this article is in no way intended to scare or alarm – it’s purpose is simply to raise awareness of an issue, which for most of us, will be no issue at all.

None of us need reminding of the fundamental importance of the work which we perform as reproductive scientists. However, alongside this comes the inevitable seriousness and consequences when we make a mistake and whether we like it or not, we live in a litigious society. Whilst proceeding down the ‘legal’ route may be less likely, and the outcomes more measured, than perhaps for our colleagues in other countries (the USA being the obvious example), the threat of legal action being taken against us by patients, employers and others is here to stay.

As such, it is imperative, that as reproductive scientists we ensure that we are appropriately indemnified for the work that we carry out. Furthermore, those of you that are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) will be aware of the requirement to formally declare that ‘… I must have in place a professional indemnity arrangement which provides appropriate cover and I confirm that I will have this in place when I practise.’.

There appear to be several different employment scenarios under which reproductive scientists work as follows:

  1. Those employed by the NHS who carry out only NHS work
  2. Those employed by the NHS who carry out a mixture of NHS and private work
  3. Those employed by academic institutions who carry out NHS and/or private work
  4. Those employed in private centres who carry out private (and sometimes NHS work)
  5. Those who work independently providing ‘at the bench’ services (having direct interaction with gametes, embryos, or patients)
  6. Those who work independently only providing consultation and advice (having no direct interaction with gametes, embryos, or patients)

I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list and my apologies for any scenarios which I have missed.

It is not unreasonable to assume that those reproductive scientists in category A will be indemnified by their employing Trust, however, the situation in categories B and C, where private patients are involved may be more complex. Similarly, it is highly likely that reproductive scientists employed in private centres will benefit from cover arranged by their employing company.

The situation for reproductive scientists who work independently is more complicated as the indemnity requirements will vary according to the type of work being undertaken

In any event, ARCS would strongly recommend that reproductive scientists employed in categories B, C and D do not simply assume that appropriate professional indemnity is in place and that they should make enquiries (perhaps though Human Resources Departments) seeking confirmation of their indemnity status.

The situation for reproductive scientists who work independently is more complicated as the indemnity requirements will vary according to the type of work being undertaken. For example, someone acting in a ‘locum’ capacity could quite reasonably ask that the employing centre provide cover for the duration of the contract. Alternatively, it is possible for independent reproductive scientists to put in place a personal professional indemnity policy for the work they perform, something which I, myself, have recently arranged. Clearly, there is a cost associated with this latter approach, but this should not be a barrier to ensuring that those working independently have suitable cover in place.

As I mentioned at the outset, this article does not set out to cause unnecessary concern however, ARCS would strongly encourage you to make sure you know exactly where you stand in the event that legal action is taken against you.

Please do not hesitate to contact me directly by email at steve@rsc.me.uk if you have any concerns regarding the above.