The COVID-19 pandemic has left the human race in unchartered territory. Understandably, this will likely impact medical negligence claims and how access to justice will continue as we come to terms with these difficult and trying times. What’s more, at this time when medical professionals in both the NHS and social sector are doing a fantastic job at the frontline, many may be faced with a moral dilemma as to whether or not to pursue a complaint and medical negligence claim.
That said, when a health professional makes a grave mistake which results in an injury or illness to a patient, such patient should be able to access justice if it can be proven that the injury would not have happened but for the error. This article discusses the impact of COVID-19 on medical negligence claims.
Impact on Complaints About Healthcare
The NHS England, G.P., hospital Trusts, dental practices and many health organisations have temporarily suspended their complaints process so they can attend to the more pressing issue of patient care. This affects complaints – both new and existing. Patients can continue to express their concerns and these complaints will be logged, but they will only be acknowledged and no investigation will take place until this difficult period is over.
However, the NHS guidelines indicate that complaints involving patient safety or performance of a health professional should be assessed by health organisations so that swift action can be taken where necessary. In the same vein, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman are not currently registering new complaints and have paused any existing complaints. So, making an NHS claim or a claim against a private practitioner may not be as straightforward for the time being.
Impact on Limitation Period
If you believe you may have a medical negligence claim, it is important that you are aware of the three-year time limit and seek legal support as soon as possible. The time limit or limitation period means that a claim must be brought within three years from the date of the negligence or date of knowledge of the negligent treatment. ‘Bringing a claim’ here means that the claim must be settled or Court proceedings issued within this period.
It is important to note that this limitation period will not be suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic; so, it is best to seek legal advice immediately.
For children, the three-year time limit only begins to run when they turn 18. If a person lacks mental capacity to bring a claim, for instance due to a brain injury, then the time limit will only begin when they regain capacity. If you bringing a claim on behalf of someone who has died, the limitation period begins to run from the date of his or her death, so long as the time limit did not expire during their lifetime. However, in some circumstances, the time limit may begin from the date of knowledge of the deceased’s executioner or dependant, if this is later.
A claim that is not brought within the limitation period cannot be pursued without the approval of the Court. Therefore, it is best to speak with a medical negligence solicitor about your claim as soon as possible. This will help you avoid running out of time for your medical negligence claim.
Impact on Existing Medical Negligence Claims
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on the way medical negligence cases have been managed due to the increased pressure on medical experts. These experts now have to work to manage cases in a way that accommodates the current situation whilst protecting the interests of claimants. Modern technology has now made it possible for Courts and lawyers to operate remotely, though medical examinations of patients have been suspended for the time being.
The pandemic will also affect the timetable set by the Courts for medical negligence cases; they will be more drawn out to accommodate the impact of the pandemic. But it is worth noting that the vast majority of medical negligence claims are resolved without getting to court.
Impact on Inquests
On March 26, 2020, the Chief Coroner issued a guidepost regarding how inquests should be conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. This guidepost allows individual coroners apply their discretion as to whether inquests should be conducted remotely or they should be adjourned.
Coroners have also been advised to appreciate the extra workload that medical professionals have had to manage during the pandemic. According to the guidepost, inquests must be made legally open to the public; for inquests done remotely (over video conferencing or similar), they should be held in a court and not a private place. However, keeping the hearings public may prove difficult due to the court closures.
Therefore, there will likely be delays in relation to inquests regarding the death of a loved one due to the pandemic. In due course, coroners will receive more guidance as regards inquests into deaths caused by COVID-19.
Impact on the Care Quality Commission
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is an independent regulator charged with the monitoring, inspection, and regulation of hospitals, care homes, GP surgery and dental practices to ensure they meet the standards of quality and safety. They have now suspended routine inspections to ease the pressure on social and health care services. But monitoring of data and information will continue, allowing the CQC take action if there is any risk of harm.
Assessment by Medical Negligence Solicitors
At Medical Negligence Direct, we handle a wide range of medical negligence cases across the UK. We work with a panel of specialist solicitors who are particularly experienced in handling complex medical negligence claims, including birth injuries, spinal injuries, fatal claims and other life-altering claims.
If you or your loved one have been a victim of negligent treatment and want to pursue a claim for medical negligence, please get in touch with us on 0800 644 4240 or fill out our claims assessment form and we will call you as soon as possible. The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the world as we know it, but you can rest assured of our support all the way to help you seek the justice you deserve.
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