We are approaching the 72nd anniversary of the NHS on the 05 July 2020 and we support the campaign to make this an official day to pay tribute to their staff for the care which they have provided to all of us over the years and more particularly, during the recent Covid-19 health crisis. We owe them a big debt of gratitude.
As the NHS emerge from one crisis, they potentially face another two which they need to prepare for.
Firstly, whilst focusing on the pandemic, treatment has been delayed for many non Covid-19 patients. Many operations have had to be cancelled and non-urgent treatments postponed and routine check-ups delayed but almost inevitably, some urgent cases are likely to have been missed.
Secondly, there is likely to be many thousands of patients sitting at home who should have gone to hospital during the last few months but did not do so, as they were worried about catching the coronavirus. These patients will add to the waiting lists.
Self-evidently, there is no legal claim if a patient does not seek medical help but there may potentially be claims from existing patients where there have been failings in the care provided due to the Covid-19 crisis.
The NHS are obliged in law to provide their patients with competent staff and systems of work which protect their health and wellbeing.
Specific areas where a claim may be brought in the future include:-
- Patients with time sensitive conditions who may have died or suffered irreparable damage through want of treatment;
- Elderly patients discharged to care homes leading to an increased risk of infection;
- The failure to take reasonable steps to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, for example, by providing their staff with proper PPE and enforcing strict social distancing protocols to minimise the risk to patients of catching the virus – interestingly, the evidence suggests that more than 1 in 10 hospital deaths from Covid-19 involve those patients who were admitted to hospital without the virus.
Although every legal case has to be assessed on its own merits, it is likely that the lawyers acting for the NHS will argue that Judges should make allowances when judging NHS staff during this health crisis – in our view, this argument is unlikely to succeed.
In those cases, where patients say their infection could have been avoided, they will still need to prove that they have contracted it as a result of the care provided and not within the community. This could be a difficult obstacle to overcome.
In any event, any legal claim is a distraction for hard pressed NHS staff (and a drain on its resources) and already many of the larger Claimant firms are encouraging patients to bring cases.
The Government needs to provide additional funding to the NHS during this turbulent time to ensure that they have sufficient funds to help clear the future backlog of cases (which some say could be as high as 10 million by Christmas) but also prioritising those patients with urgent needs who may have slipped through the net during the last few months.
We would also like to see separate Covid-19 hospitals and non Covid-19 hospitals to minimise the risk of cross infection.
Similarly, elderly residents in care homes who do not have the virus, should be moved immediately to alternative accommodation and the existing lockdown measures should be removed so they can see their families in person. Psychologically this lockdown has been very damaging to these residents and their families.
In any cases where there have been failings in the standard of care to patients, we would urge the NHS (and their lawyers) to make early admissions of liability and ensure these patients are adequately compensated without the need for protracted and expensive legal proceedings which cannot be in anybody’s interests.