Frontline clinicians should be protected from litigation, says MDU

Dr Matthew Lee, head of professional services, MDU

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) has called on ministers to protect frontline healthcare workers from Covid-related litigation.

Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum conference on the impact of Covid-19 on clinical negligence in the NHS, the MDU said the government needed to enact emergency legislation to protect healthcare service providers and their staff.

Dr Matthew Lee, professional services director at the MDU said: ‘The pandemic has been traumatising for many frontline staff and we are worried that clinical negligence claims brought against the NHS could be extremely damaging for some individual clinical staff. In a survey of our GP members, 63% said they were concerned about facing a complaint or claim related to the pandemic. Even if indemnified by the state, claims can be complex, time consuming and stressful for those involved.’

The MDU said there had been ‘many thousands’ of complaints and incidents related to the pandemic over the past ten months. These include delayed routine appointments and treatments, as well as delays in diagnosis due to increased waiting times for treatment and new ways of working, such as remote consultations.

‘Inevitably this will lead to litigation against the NHS in future years. Many claims will not be brought for three to five years, or even longer, when memories of the sacrifices made by staff and the circumstances they faced will sadly have faded, said Lee.

‘Patients harmed as a result of care provided during the pandemic must not be forgotten, and they should be looked after appropriately by the NHS. However, litigation brought post-pandemic as a result of care provided by NHS staff during the crisis could inflict enormous damage on the whole workforce.

In the US, a number of states have enacted laws providing medical professionals with legal immunity during the pandemic. The MDU said it would like to see the introduction of similar measures in the UK.