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The impact of Covid-19 on medical negligence claims

Covid-19 continues to affect us all – despite the recent easing of government restrictions put in place to contain the pandemic. For anyone in the process of making a medical negligence claim or who believes they may have a legitimate complaint, the current situation creates a dilemma.

On one hand, a person who suffers injury or illness due to poor or delayed treatment is entitled to seek justice. But, on the other, a person might feel uncomfortable to make a claim against a health service, care provider or hospital trust still on the frontline of the Covid-19 battle.

Medical negligence in the current climate

The Covid-19 hasn't stopped new medical negligence claims being made. Since 28 February, a total of 2,036 claims have been made against the NHS in England – based on figures from NHS Resolution. But there is growing concern within the profession that medics working through the pandemic could be at risk from billions of pounds' worth of new claims. One reason is the need to take tough decisions about treatment in the context of challenging conditions and priorities.

The short-term impact of the pandemic

For claims that were already in process, government restrictions also caused problems. Courts closed and clinical examinations that form part of the process became impossible. But, despite often having to handle caseloads from home, medical negligence solicitors continued to act on behalf of their clients. And, of course, there have been delays and pauses to contend with.

For a time during the peak of the outbreak, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman suspended its complaints process. While now reopen, it's an example of how the process has – naturally – been slowed as backlogs require clearing. The same can also be said for the courts system, although it's worth noting that relatively few clinical negligence claims end up in court.

Could case numbers rise in the longer-term?

As mentioned above, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has expressed concern about the risks of a surge in medical negligence claims in the coming months. In the USA, several states have taken steps to protect healthcare professionals against claims made for injury or illness caused in the last few months. It remains to be seen if the UK government will take a similar stance.

For all claims, however, there remains the need to prove that – on the balance of probabilities – poor or negligent care led to an avoidable illness or injury. Even if there is an increase in the number of claims to emerge from the pandemic, recognition of the difficult conditions that care providers have been working in could well factor into that balance of probabilities.

The claims process: Still open to those in need

Like all other areas of our lives, the medical and legal professions are still struggling to find the 'new normal'. This means that matters are still to settle. But, for anyone who believes they still have a case that falls within the three-year limitation, the claims process is still available.

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