The Medical Defence Union (MDU), the UK's leading medical defence organisation, says the burden of medico-legal investigations on doctors needs to be minimised as complaints processes and other investigations resume.
Throughout the UK, GMC investigations, NHS complaints procedures and the ombudsmen's complaints processes are beginning to resume this month, having been paused or on hold during the pandemic. The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) also opens its doors for fitness to practise tribunals at the start of August.
Dr Caroline Fryar, head of advisory services, said:
"With the easing of lockdown, more NHS services are resuming and we know that complaints and referral to regulators could also return to pre-pandemic levels. At the MDU, we are working with those responsible for regulating and investigating complaints to ensure their procedures continue to take account of the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic and the fact it's still not business as usual.
"Many of the difficult conditions, constraints and added pressures facing doctors will continue for a long time and the impact of the pandemic on the physical and emotional health and wellbeing of healthcare staff could be felt for many years to come.
"In a survey of 250 MDU members, including GPs and consultants, 70% of respondents said their stress and anxiety levels had deteriorated since the beginning of the pandemic. And the long term health impact on frontline workers, which some have compared to post traumatic stress disorder, is not yet fully understood.
"Some patients, their relatives and carers have continued to make complaints during the last few months. The MDU's members reported to us 500 patient complaints since the start of lockdown on 23 March.
"Some of these complaints have the potential to become clinical negligence claims which is why it is also vital that the government acts to ensure all NHS healthcare professionals are exempt from COVID-19 related litigation, and the additional distress and anxiety it inevitably causes.
"The MDU has been liaising with a number of bodies, including the GMC, MPTS and the Professional Standards Authority, discussing the quickest and fairest way to address the backlog of investigations and reminding them that conditions are far from 'normal' and unlikely to be so for a long time to come. It's not business as usual for our members and it's reassuring to see this acknowledged and, we hope, taken into consideration by all who whose business it is to hold them accountable.
"We owe it to all NHS staff, who have made such enormous personal and professional sacrifices, to continue to try to minimise the impact on them of unnecessary investigations."
This page was correct at publication on 15/07/2020. 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.