Understanding the world of professional indemnity isn't always straightforward. With so many different terms and definitions it can be difficult to understand exactly how it works.

Here I explain the discretionary occurrence-based indemnity on which DDU members have relied for over 70 years.

The DDU is the specialist dental division of the MDU, a not-for-profit mutual company owned by its members who currently include around 200,000 professionals working in medicine and dentistry.

The mutual company was founded in 1885, and the DDU division was formed over 70 years ago to provide dedicated guidance, support and defence to our dental members. Working with a 'dentists for dentists' ethos, our team of specialist dentists and lawyers can offer expert advice if your clinical competence or care of patients is ever questioned.

Where members face allegations of clinical negligence, their membership means they have the right to seek DDU assistance with defending the claim, and if necessary, paying compensation. Rather than offer a policy of insurance, the benefits of DDU membership are provided on a discretionary basis.

This means we consider each request for assistance individually and can be flexible to meet the wide ranging needs of our members, unlike an insurance contract which is bound by the terms or small print. It is important to note that the DDU uses its discretion to help members, not to avoid doing so.

Being a not-for-profit member-owned company, our members' interests are at the forefront when defending claims brought against them. We understand the fundamental importance of our members' professional reputations and how upsetting it can be when their clinical care is called in to question.

For these reasons, we don't settle cases for financial expediency. If a case is defensible we aim to win it. Last year we successfully defended 65% of claims brought against our dental members - closing the files with no adverse finding, no admissions of liability and no payments of costs or damages to the claimant or their lawyers.

DDU indemnity is provided on an occurrence basis, meaning that as long as your membership is active on the date a patient is treated, you can seek assistance from the DDU at any point in the future, even if you have ceased practice when the claim comes in. This is important as it is not uncommon to see claims notified relating to treatment provided 10 or even 20 years in the past. In contrast, insurance policies only allow claims to be made for incidents that happen while the policy is in force.

A recent review of cases notified to us by DDU members over the last 3 years showed that we were able to help in over 99.5% of requests.

Use of discretion

If you ever need to ask for our help, it's important to have a good understanding of what to expect. This includes knowing the broad range of things we can help with, as well as the limited circumstances when we might not.

What we take into account

The DDU receives thousands of requests for assistance from members every year, and each one is carefully considered.

We can help members needing guidance, support or defence in relation to their providing clinical services to patients. This includes dento-legal, clinical risk management and ethical advice where needed in respect of the clinical treatment of patients - pre-emptively or when something has gone wrong.

We can also help members when their practice is called in to question regarding:

  • patient complaints (including those that escalate to the ombudsman)
  • GDC fitness to practise investigations
  • performers list actions and clinical capability concerns
  • disciplinary matters
  • criminal allegations (where they arise out of clinical care).

We also help members with GDC cases that relate to non-clinical matters (although we draw the line at formal criminal convictions), as we understand that protecting a dentist's registration is core to their professional career.

While it might seem obvious, I can't stress enough the importance of keeping us up to date with the nature of your work. It is also fundamental that you are accurate and truthful at all times when providing us with information. For example, if you've told us you don't place implants and you subsequently notify a claim relating to an implant you placed, then depending on the circumstances, we might ask you to pay the difference in subscription or even turn down the claim.

When we're unlikely to help

It's extremely rare for requests for assistance to be turned down. A recent review of cases notified to us by DDU members over the last three years showed that we were able to help in over 99.5% of requests.

While it would be nice to do everything asked of us, our benefits have a defined remit for the benefit of all of our members. In the handful of cases where we turned down a request for assistance, the circumstances were for reasons explained clearly in our member guide outlining where we are unlikely to assist, such as deliberate criminal acts, or because the incident for which support is required happened when the individual was not a member of the DDU (eg, before they joined).

DDU app

DDU membership: more than indemnity

Understanding the extent and limits of any type of insurance or indemnity is important to help you practise with confidence, but your professional support shouldn't stop there.

That's why being a member of the DDU provides you with much more than just proven professional indemnity. We offer a wealth of expert guidance and advice to help you handle the day-to-day dilemmas of dental practice, available on the phone, on our website or via our mobile app.

We help you learn and develop with face-to-face and online courses, e-learning and CPD, supporting you throughout your career. And we're here to help you manage the practical side of modern dentistry, with a new associate contract checking and advice service available to associates and principals as standard.

If you've got any other questions about indemnity or your membership and what it provides, contact us or visit our website.


This article was correct at publication on 09/07/2019. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

John Makin

Head of the DDU

John Makin BDS PgDL PgCDE FHEA is head of the DDU. He qualified in Manchester in 1983 and has worked as a general dental practitioner in Lancashire and Devon before joining the DDU as a dento-legal adviser. He was involved with foundation training for many years as both a trainer and VT adviser/training programme director with the Manchester and Exeter DFT schemes. 

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