MDU concerned about mental health impact of pandemic related litigation

The government must shield frontline healthcare workers from the potentially damaging impact of Covid-related litigation, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) said today.

The UK's leading medical defence organisation said it was worried that staff, already at breaking point, would soon be facing involvement in legal cases arising from care they provided in extremely difficult circumstances.

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

Dr Matthew Lee, professional services director at the MDU, said:

"The Covid-19 pandemic is testing the NHS and individual staff to its limits. However, we are concerned about the impact on clinicians involved in litigation against the NHS when it emerges in the years ahead.

"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.

"MDU members have sought our help with many thousands of complaints and incidents related to the pandemic over the past 10 months. Cases include delays to routine appointments, investigations and treatments. We have also seen delays in diagnosis because of increased waiting times for treatment or 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.

"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. Now is the time for action.

"Many US states have introduced laws providing legal immunity during the pandemic and we would like to see something comparable happen here."

This page was correct at publication on 28/01/2021. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.