The Medical Defence Union (MDU) has called for a debate on whether doctors should be shielded from medical negligence claims following the coronavirus pandemic.
Several US states, including New York, New Jersey and Michigan, have already adopted laws that provide healthcare professionals and hospitals with “immunity from civil liability for any injury or death alleged to have been sustained because of any acts or omissions undertaken in good faith” during the crisis, according to The Guardian.
Doctors are being asked to work outside their expertise in areas where they may not have the most up-to-date knowledge, across primary and secondary care in the US and UK, putting them at increased risk.
Retired doctors have been called back to work and final year medical students are starting work early. Other treatments and surgeries are being delayed to cope with the influx of Covid-19 patients.
Before the pandemic, the cost of medical negligence in the NHS was already climbing, according to the MDU. Last year, NHS Resolution estimated the accumulated claims it was facing amounted to £83.4 billion.
“We are concerned that medical liability claims will come long after public memory of the sacrifices made by healthcare workers have been forgotten,” explained Dr Christine Tomkins, chief executive of the MDU.
“NHS Resolution will handle and pay claims as doctors and other healthcare professionals are state indemnified for the work they are doing treating patients with Covid-19 and providing other essential NHS services in response to the pandemic. However, doctors will still be involved in claims and we know that facing allegations of negligence can be extremely distressing for the practitioners involved. We are not aware of any claims yet, but we are already aware of complaints arising from Covid-19 and its effect on other services.”
Tomkins continued: “Our members are working under tremendous pressure, taking difficult decisions about patient care in very challenging conditions and we want them to be able to do so without fear they will be unfairly judged in the months and years ahead. Doctors must be accountable for their actions but the GMC has already recognised that different considerations will need to be applied when investigating complaints.”
“We believe there needs to be a public debate about whether it is right to sue the NHS for patient care around the Covid-19 pandemic. Any compensation paid will be a drain on NHS resources and disastrous for the morale of staff who are acting so selflessly and courageously. Claims will also place an additional burden on taxpayers, who will be facing all the economic consequences of the pandemic. It would be better to allow the NHS to focus its time, efforts and financial resources on recovering from the pandemic.”