I don’t know why some health services managers want to meddle in union business, particularly when it involves giving gratuitous and inaccurate advice about a union’s service. On the one hand it is frustrating that members are misled about a particular matter, but on the other it is amusing to see membership grow as a result of ham-fisted comments from managers.

For some inexplicable reason, the head of Austin Health’s pathology department recently felt the need to issue a memo to tell medical scientists they don’t need professional indemnity (PI) insurance cover, which comes with MSAV membership, essentially because Austin Health is insured by the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority (VMIA) against medical malpractice claims which allegedly also covers Austin Health employees.

There are a number of problems with this advice, not least of which is that the VMIA does not guarantee it will pay for an Austin Health employee’s independent legal representation. Austin Health is the insured under the policy and of course will have the costs of legal representation to defend an action covered by the VMIA. At best, the employee who does not have his/her own PI insurance cover would have to rely on the support of legal representatives who are ethically required to represent Austin Health’s interests, and of course these may not necessarily be their own. At worst, the employee will need to pay for their own independent legal representation.

In addition, union PI insurance covers damages awarded by a court against an employee up to an amount of $5,000,000 in any claim ($10,000,000 in any year). It is highly unlikely VMIA insurance will cover damages costs for both a health service and an employee if separate damages amounts are awarded by a court.

An important part of a union member’s PI insurance is that it also covers employment related matters and claims. This cover is used to run significant claims for members, including in the Federal Court, and has resulted in significant pay outs for union members involved. The latest of these involved an action by 25 members and has resulted in a very large payments for each individual member.

Professional Indemnity insurance is a critically important protection for anyone working in the health sector, including for scientists employed in pathology services at Austin Health. The fact that it comes with union membership means it is a truly great benefit for members.

Austin Health’s “critique” of the MSAV’s PI insurance cover is misleading and inaccurate. Thankfully, scientists sought our advice and were set straight about our PI insurance benefit.

— Paul Elliott, Executive Officer

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