MPs, led by Dr Philippa Whitford, have called for the Government to appoint an expert committee to set out clear Covid-19 pandemic medico-legal guidance relating.
This follows the lead set by the Medical Protection Society who recently called on the Government to introduce emergency legislation to protect doctors at risk of legal challenge when treating COVID-19 patients.
There are increasing fears that doctors may face unfair trials and regulatory proceedings resulting from the added pressures of practising in the pandemic.
Dr Whitford, SNP’s shadow health spokesperson, said independent guidance is needed on:
- The claims, complaints and regulatory issues likely to be raised by COVID-19, both directly and indirectly
- How these can be tackled fairly, taking into account the exceptional circumstances clinical professionals have been working in, and
- What changes to normal processes may be necessary to minimise the stress and uncertainty on clinicians of investigations into decisions they made during Covid-19
She said: “It is important that the exceptional circumstances of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic are not forgotten when using hindsight to judge medical decisions or actions.
“An advisory committee could lay out specific guidance to achieve a fair balance between protecting patients.”
There has been no indication from the Government signalling any intention to introduce legislation or statutory guidance to protect healthcare professionals and workers from “unfair trials and regulatory proceedings”.
It is clear that the current pandemic is unlike anything most medical practitioners would have seen during the careers in clinical care. Whilst the UK’s main healthcare regulators have openly stated that the unique circumstances presented by the pandemic will be fully taken into consideration in all fitness to practise proceedings, there is, to date no litigation on the issue to use as a measure which leaves the doors open to legal action against clinical practitioners.
The assurances given by the healthcare regulators will give health can care practitioners some comfort however the implementation of legislation will go much further.
One word of caution though, it is unlikely that any legislation will provide a blanket exemption from prosecution or regulatory action. There might be cases where clinical decisions were negligent and this might give rise to legitimate legal recourse. However, these would be in the minority of cases.