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MPs call for expert review into medico-legal repercussions of pandemic

A group of MPs, led by Dr Philippa Whitford, has called for the Government to appoint an expert committee to set out clear medico-legal guidance relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Whitford, SNP’s shadow health spokesperson and a former doctor, is working alongside medical defence organisation MDDUS on the campaign, which she is bringing to health secretary Matt Hancock via a letter today.

Their bid comes amid fears doctors may be faced with unfair trials and regulatory proceedings resulting from the added pressures of practising in the pandemic.

Dr Whitford 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: ‘At the moment everyone is aware of the stress and challenge faced by NHS staff, but that memory will fade.

‘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’ rights and taking into account the situation in which doctors were having to work.

‘While the advanced planning for a pandemic was rather limited, we owe it to all our frontline clinicians – especially those who have had to make difficult decisions about patient treatment – to plan well for its aftermath.’

MDDUS CEO Chris Kenny said: ‘I have already written to the UK’s senior law officers urging them to direct courts to take into account the unique circumstances of Covid-19 during any related criminal claim against healthcare professionals.

‘I am very encouraged that MPs support the principle of an independent, expert advisory committee. I look to ministers to take forward this as a matter of urgency as they plan for the aftermath of Covid-19.’

The news comes as the GMC has moved to reassure doctors that they will take the ‘challenging circumstances’ into account when investigating coronavirus-related complaints.

The GMC will also only make fitness-to-practise information requests to doctors during the pandemic if there is ‘an immediate patient safety concern’.

Meanwhile, NHS England said it will be supporting a ‘system-wide pause’ on the NHS complaints process, including the suspension of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman complaints process for at least three months.