The Covid-19 pandemic has placed increased pressure on almost all industries, not least healthcare. Doctors and nurses are working overtime to limit the damage of the virus and the NHS is doing an admirable job. Other serious illnesses are still occurring however – and patients should expect the same level of care as they did pre-pandemic.
It’s highly possible that increased NHS activity will lead to a rise in medical negligence claims. So what factors are behind this expected increase, and how has the claims process evolved?
Delays for non-Covid patients
With primary care services suspended, GP practices closed, non-urgent operations postponed and CQC inspections cancelled, delayed diagnosis and treatment will have caused widespread damage in the UK and beyond.
There have been countless reports of how people with serious illnesses have had important appointments fall through. 35,000 excess cancer deaths were predicted in 2020 – and it’s likely many other life-threatening conditions will have gone undetected in the meantime.
The Coronavirus Act 2020
In response, the government has implemented new powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020 in conjunction with NHS Resolution’s new clinical negligence scheme for coronavirus.
The Act provides extra indemnity coverage for clinical negligence liabilities linked to the pandemic and the changes it drove to healthcare agreements and ways of working. One example is how final year medical professionals and retired clinicians were drafted in to help fight the virus with unfinished or outdated training.
What is classed as a breach under the current circumstances?
Proving negligence involves showing that care fell below the standard that could be reasonably expected from another professional in the same circumstances. Examples of breaches include failing to act on test results or flag minor symptoms that later become more serious.
This standard of care cannot be measured against ‘normal’ times however, but instead against the increased pressures of the pandemic. It may be that this bar is set locally to reflect how different regions have seen pressures rise and fall.
Increased time pressure on claims
People who have suffered negligence are being urged to contact professional negligence solicitors as early as possible to avoid exceeding claims time limits. Patients usually have a time limit of three years from the date the negligence occurred, or from when they became aware of its impacts. But obtaining medical records is currently taking longer due to strained NHS resources.
Contacting legal experts sooner will help account for NHS administration delays caused by continuing Covid-19 pressures and the vaccine roll out.