The Medical Protection Society (MPS) recently called for new laws to protect doctors at risk of medical malpractice suits when treating patients with COVID-19. Similar laws have already been passed in New York state, when Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive order granted immunity to healthcare providers during the crisis. The law covered all doctors, doctors’ assistants, nurses, nurse practitioners, and licensed practical nurses providing services to aid those ill with COVID. The immunity covers civil liability for injury or death allegedly sustained by the acts or omissions of such a professional. In the UK, steps are still to be taken to protect health professionals in a similar manner.
Reasons for the MPS Plea
There are various decisions for the MPS’ call for protection for doctors. One is that the pandemic is forcing doctors to “consider factors such as the availability and capacity of current resources when making decisions which would otherwise be purely clinical.” As stated by malpractice experts JJS Law, medical malpractice usually covers hospital errors, misdiagnoses and medical errors, but it can extend to a failure to provide patients with the treatment they need, or to fail to refer patients to a hospital or health centre where their needs can be met. In times of COVID-19, health professionals may be well aware that treatments such as respiratory support may be required, yet lack the equipment required to provide these treatments. The pandemic has evidently stressed the health system beyond measure, with over 276.332 people diagnosed with the disease in the UK at this point in time.
Immunity does Not Cover All Actions
It is important to bear in mind that immunity as granted in New York does not apply to acts or omissions caused “by the willful or intentional criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or intentional infliction of harm.” The New York Emergency Disaster Treatment Protection Act specifies that a lack of staff or resources cannot be considered examples of intentional, willful, and reckless misconduct or an intentional infliction of harm. Because patient safety is vital, any act protecting health professionals should be limited to the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. In a blog published in the British Medical Journal, writer Rob Hendry argues that time, resource pressures, and the extraordinary pressures faced by staff are good reasons why extra protection is required.
The MPS’ call for protection for medical staff against suits for medical malpractice are important at a time in which the health system is being stretched to its maximum capacity. Health professionals are currently being forced to make decisions of a type they may never have had to face in the past. Thus, a law with a temporary time scope and covering decisions made in good faith would ensure that extra protection is provided while it is strictly necessary.