Covid-19: What Does This Mean for Your Clinical Negligence Complaint

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08 April, 2020

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the NHS has 'paused' the investigation of some new and existing complaints. This is to let staff focus on patient care, as well as allowing complaints teams to provide vital support to the NHS and allow all healthcare providers in all sectors to concentrate their efforts on the front-line duties and responsiveness to COVID-19. However, the NHS website states that all new complaints will continue to be logged and they will prioritise those which relate to patient safety, practitioner performance or safeguarding and take immediate action where necessary.

All complaints will then remain open until further notice, unless an informal resolution could be achieved, or the complainant chooses to withdraw their complaint.

NHS England and NHS Improvement (who have worked together as a new single organisation since 1st April 2019, to better support the NHS to deliver improved care for patients) have written to all NHS providers about the option to 'pause' complaints. Although, each individual healthcare providers can opt to operate as usual regarding the management of complaints if they wish to do so and this 'pause' is not being enforced. You can check each provider's website for details as to how they intend or if they intend to 'pause' their complaints procedure.

Regardless of this pause, all providers should ensure that patients and the public are still able to raise concerns or make a complaint, but they should manage the expectation of an investigation and response in the near future. Consideration should be given to complainants who, at the time of the 'pause', have already waited excessively long for their response (specifically those who have waited 6 months or more). These should be reviewed to ascertain if and how these can be resolved.

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), who are a clinically led statutory NHS bodies responsible for the planning and commissioning of health care services for their local areas, should ensure that they continue to have open channels of communication with patients and the public.

In secondary care, PALS (Patient advice & liaison services, who can assist with the complaints process) where their offices are still operating, can still provide support by email and telephone and this should be encouraged for patients and the public to engage with them. You can find your nearest PALS officer here.

Additionally, as of 26 March 2020, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), who provide independent reviews/investigations of a complaint where the NHS appears to have not acted properly or fairly, or has provided a poor service, has stopped accepting new NHS complaints and stopped work on open cases. On PHSO's website, they have stated that the pandemic is putting unprecedented pressure on the NHS and this has meant many NHS organisations are struggling to answer complaints and many complaints staff have understandably been redeployed to help tackle the pandemic. PHSO have decided that they should not place additional burdens on the health service at this time, they will therefore pause their work involving health complaints

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), who monitor, inspect and regulate hospitals, GPs and care home services to make sure they meet fundamental standards of quality and safety, have announced that they have suspended their routine inspections to reduce the pressure on health and social care services, however they will still monitor using data and information, and will still visit if they think there's a risk of harm or abuse.

There are strict time limits placed upon clinical negligence claims, but these may vary depending on the age of the patient. Patients are usually required to start a compensation claim within 3 years of their injury, or within 3 years of when they discovered their injury was the result of clinical negligence. However, in cases where a child under 18 has suffered clinical injury, the time limit starts from the date of their 18th birthday.

Even with the pause in the complaints procedure this will not pause the 3-year time limit and once the 3-year time limit has been reached your claim will become statue barred. We would ordinarily expect anyone who has any concerns in relation to the medical care to have made a complaint to the hospital trust in question and the complaint be investigated. Therefore, if you have any concerns about the medical care you received, it is important that you make a complaint when you can, and to get in touch with our specialist clinical negligence team as soon as you can as to avoid further delays and potentially missing your deadline to claim.

For more information contact Leonie Millard in our Clinical Negligence department via email or phone on 01254 770517. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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