General practice could face £44m in Covid-related clinical negligence claims, NHS Resolution has estimated.
A spokesperson said that an estimated £44m out of a forecast £885m total new claims due to the pandemic may come through the clinical negligence scheme for general practice (CNSGP) in 2020/21.
Trusts are expected to face negligence claims of £665m, they added.
The spokesperson stressed that the figures are ‘broad estimates’ as at the time of estimating the financial impact of Covid-19 for NHS Resolution’s annual report, it had not yet received any Covid-specific claims.
They told Pulse: ‘Actual experience may differ quite considerably from the estimates we provided for in our 2020/21 accounts, but it will be several years before we are likely to be able to confirm that, due to the time lag between incidents occurring, claims being received, and then being settled, particularly for clinical negligence claims.’
The annual report for 2020/21, published in July, estimated that ‘new potential sources of claims’ arising from the pandemic in the following year could total around £900m.
However, it also said that Covid would mean lower numbers of claims due to clinical work being cancelled – reducing claims by around £400m and resulting in a £500m net expected impact of the pandemic on claims made against the NHS.
Dr Caroline Fryar, head of advisory services at the Medical Defence Union (MDU), said NHS Resolution’s forecasts are ‘concerning, although not surprising’ and that ‘claims are likely to come in long after the memory of the sacrifices made by healthcare professionals have faded’.
She added: ‘Since the first lockdown in March 2020, we’ve supported members with nearly 7,000 complaints and adverse incidents. While this isn’t an increase overall on numbers compared to pre-pandemic, we are surprised at the volume, given public understanding and sympathy with healthcare professionals, and also because complaints processes were put on hold at the height of the pandemic.’
Dr Naeem Nazem, head of medical division at the Medical & Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS), said doctors have faced a ‘double jeopardy’ when treating patients during the pandemic, to ‘both their own health and also to the future risk of Covid-related claims’.
Dr Nazem said the MDDUS has campaigned ‘relentlessly’ to ensure ‘all the unique circumstances of Covid-19 are taken into account when regulators and the courts have to consider these matters’.
He said: ‘Although state-backed schemes are in place to cover the costs of clinical negligence claims made in relation to Covid-19, we recognise the significant personal impact these will have on doctors.’
He advised GPs to ‘consult immediately’ with their MDO if notified of a claim or complaint.
And Dr Rob Hendry, medical director at the Medical Protection Society (MPS), told Pulse GPs must be given reassurance that complaints will be dealt with ‘proportionately and fairly’, with the relevant authority evaluating cases and claims ‘in the context of the extraordinary circumstances they are working within’.
MPS has proposed ‘an independent expert committee’ to ‘make recommendations on how patient complaints and claims against doctors can be dealt with fairly relating to this or any other future pandemic’.
Dr Hendry said: ‘A package of legal reforms is needed to control rising costs and help to strike a balance between compensation that is reasonable, but also affordable for the NHS and society.’
An MPS survey conducted earlier this year found that nearly 4 in 5 GPs in the UK (77%) are concerned about facing investigation if patients come to harm as a result of delayed referrals or non-Covid-19 services being unavailable or limited.
It comes as the MDU saw its busiest months ever earlier this year, as part of a 23% increase in the number of GPs it is supporting with complaints and claims made against them – including over face-to-face appointments.
In September, the Health and Social care committee launched an inquiry into NHS litigation.