There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has represented the world’s biggest health crisis for decades, with the UK one of the hardest hit locations.
Things may get worse before they get better on these shores too, with the UK death toll expected to reach 150,000 (it recently breached the 100,000 barrier for the first time) before the widespread vaccination rollout and lockdown measures become truly effective.
We’ll explore how the pandemic has impacted on the medical negligence sector in the UK, while considering the potential impact of vaccines and their safety.
How Does Covid-19 Impact on Medical Negligence?
Some have questioned whether doctors and healthcare staff are exempt from medical negligence claims linked to the coronavirus, due to the unknown nature of the virus and the unprecedented outbreak on these shores.
The short answer to this question is no, however, as Covid-19 does not provide any special exemption from medical negligence claims that may be bought by stricken patients.
The same principle applies to claims that may arise from any treatments or screenings that may have been missed as a result of the coronavirus, with many patients unable or unwilling to attend such procedures when the NHS first came under pressure during the first wave of cases last spring.
According to some studies, more than 50,000 cancer diagnoses alone may have been missed during the pandemic, and this could lay the foundation for a slew of subsequent negligence claims in the near-term.
Of course, individuals who attended hospital during the first or second waves will have also encountered stretched and busy medical staff, increasing the risk of human error and potential harmful instances of misdiagnosis in the process.
What About the Coronavirus Vaccine?
The situation is a little more complex when it comes to vaccines, despite the fact that both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca offerings have now been approved and licensed for use in the UK (and other nations across the globe).
There’s little doubt that these vaccines are safe and viable from the perspective of the general population, with the speed of development and approval empowered by increased investment and the use of more intense testing processes.
More specifically, developers have been able to test their vaccines and roll out clinical trials at an unprecedented rate, allowing safety checks to be completed in record time.
The only issue surrounding the clinical trials for the Pfizer vaccine is that they did not include regular PCR testing of participants, creating a scenario where there’s only enough conclusive evidence to suggest that the vaccine offers 95% efficacy and protection from systemic infection.
Broadly speaking, however, manufacturers and healthcare professionals are protected from civil liability when administering vaccines, while the UK government has chosen to expand this safeguard to pharmaceutical companies involved with vaccine development.
Ultimately, this remains a complex area of litigation, so anyone who believes that they have a medical negligence claim pursuant to the coronavirus should seek out expert legal advice before arriving at an informed conclusion. Just bear in mind that claims relating to missed treatment or misdiagnosis will carry more weight than those associated with issues that arise from the Covid-19 vaccine, particularly when you consider the experimental nature of coronavirus treatments used during the first wave.