Medical Negligence Claims during the Coronavirus Pandemic
2020 will almost certainly be remembered by most of us as the year our lives stood still. So many of us can’t work and all of us missing our friends, family and loved ones.
Even though the country has ground to a halt because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the amazing work of our key workers gives us what we need for our everyday lives, including people working in our supermarkets, bus, tube and train drivers and those working in the NHS.
The NHS is the hero of the hour and deservedly so. We’ve all seen and heard the stories of the dedication shown by everyone working in an unrelenting, upsetting and very risky environment.
Although the pressures the NHS face at the moment may be unprecedented, the strain on the NHS is not new.
There is no doubt that people have been and will be affected by the pressures on the NHS before and after COVID-19. But there is now a moral dilemma about whether making a medical negligence claim against the NHS the right thing to do.
Whilst it’s morally right to ask that question, it’s also really important to look at the facts.
Firstly, my clients who sue the NHS don’t make that decision lightly and for most the NHS is a treasured institution that gets it right almost all of the time.
As a Medical Negligence Lawyer myself, I should add we don’t enter into it lightly either. I assess every enquiry to decide if what went wrong for that person is likely to meet the legal test and I look at whether the injury is serious enough to warrant compensation.
The compensation that people get is not a windfall. It’s measured by how serious their injuries are, whether they can work now or in the future and how much care they’ll need, sometimes for the rest of their lives. It’s not a lottery win. It’s a carefully calculated amount of money to represent what they need.
Any compensation that is paid out doesn’t come from the same pot of money that pays for medical treatment or NHS salaries. The NHS recognises that mistakes will be made and those working within the medical profession are insured, as with any other profession.
So my question is - should the outstanding efforts of the NHS stop anyone who has suffered avoidable harm due to those employed by the NHS from bringing a claim?
The answer has to be no.
Despite the appreciation we have for the NHS for the way the staff have dealt with the pandemic, there’s also a renewed appreciation for quality of life.
Once we’re out of this crisis, medical mistakes will still happen despite best efforts, just as before COVID-19.
Our appreciation for the NHS won’t fund the care that’s needed to let someone affected by a medical mistake get on with the rest of their lives. It won’t give them access to specialist therapy, treatment or rehabilitation that’s needed to give them the best possible recovery and it won’t give them the equipment they needs to live as independently as possible.
Anyone who’s been impacted by a medical mistake should have the freedom to choose how they deal with it in whatever way is right for them. In reality we don’t know what other people are going through and everyone should feel able to have an open discussion about their circumstances.
COVID-19 doesn’t and shouldn’t provide immunity to the NHS for its mistakes, but it’s brought a huge appreciation for the organisation that we have and the people in it. It’s not perfect, but does an outstanding job for the overwhelming majority.
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Simpson Millar Solicitors are a national law firm with over 500 staff and offices in Bristol, Cardiff, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester.