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Should nurses be exempt from Medical Negligence claims?

A union which represents 200,000 medical professionals in the UK has called for a debate on whether doctors and nurses should be exempt from medical negligence claims during the pandemic.

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) has called for a debate around the issue after several states in the United States, including New York, New Jersey and Michigan, adopted laws that give medical professionals and hospitals immunity from claims during the coronavirus crisis.

The laws state that they are exempt from ‘civil liability for any injury or death alleged to have been sustained because any acts or omissions undertaken in good faith’ during the pandemic.

The cost of medical negligence in the NHS has climbed steeply in recent years. In 2018, NHS Resolution estimated the accumulated claims it was facing amounted to £83.4bn.

Medical negligence claims can be made if an individual suffered damage because a medical professional acted negligently during their medical care. To successfully bring a claim the claimant needs to prove that the care they received fell below the standard of a competent medical professional and this caused damage to their health that would not have otherwise happened.

The MDU, which is the largest medical defence organisation in the UK, argues that doctors and nurses who are on the front line in the battle against Covid-19 should be spared the anxiety of facing claims for their actions during the crisis as they are being asked to work outside their expertise in areas where they may not have the most up-to-date knowledge.

They add that retired doctors have been called back to work and final year medical students are starting work early. They argue that other treatments and surgeries are being delayed to cope with the influx of coronavirus patients.

The MDU say that they accept that doctors should be accountable for their actions so is calling for a national debate on whether legal immunity and whether the NHS should be able to be sued for patient care during the outbreak.

Dr Christine Tomkins, MDU chief executive, said: “We are concerned that medical liability claims will come long after public memory of the sacrifices made by healthcare workers have been forgotten and the circumstances of the pandemic which requires people to work outside their speciality and beyond their experience will also be forgotten.

“We believe there needs to be a public debate about whether it is right to sue the NHS for patient care around the COVID-19 pandemic. Any compensation paid will be a drain on NHS resources and disastrous for the morale of staff who are acting so selflessly and courageously. Claims will also place an additional burden on taxpayers, who will be facing all the economic consequences of the pandemic. It would be better to allow the NHS to focus its time, efforts and financial resources on recovering from the pandemic.”