LEGAL EAGLE: How COVID-19 will result in tough decisions for judges

As the R number continues to fall in general across the UK and we see daily life returning to some kind of normal, conversations about Covid-19 are changing and I have noticed lately that concerns surrounding our NHS have moved from lack of PPE and pressure on staff to the issues surrounding those who have either not wished to go to their GP or hospital for fear of Covid-19 or those who have been denied treatment for non Covid-19 conditions.

Tuesday, 7th July 2020, 12:00 am
Pandemic will put health and accountability in the spotlight.

It is clear that Covid-19 has had a huge impact on healthcare services across the UK and this is likely to continue for a considerable period of time. Taking what appears to be the most topical condition latest estimates suggest that over 2.4 million people in the UK have been left waiting for cancer screening, tests or treatments and there have been increases in the number of deaths in patients with cancer during the lockdown period. As we hopefully see all cancer services returning to somewhere near normal soon it is likely questions will be asked of the government and hospitals across the UK as to whether there has been unnecessary suffering or whether deaths should have been prevented. As and when such a discussion starts to take place those affected patients and their families may look for specific answers particular to that missing treatment and might consider that there should be some accountability. Different NHS Trusts across the UK may have different levels of capacity and it is likely a variety of approaches to the treatment of diseases such as cancer have been adopted during the lockdown period. Experts in the treatment of cancer along with Trust Managers will have made decisions partly based upon the advice from government and the local situation and sought to strike a balance in an attempt to provide the best care possible for such patients. The question as to whether the balancing act or decisions made by the hospital trusts were reasonable will no doubt unfold before our eyes when the inevitable inquest into the healthcare fallout of Covid-19 truly begins.

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It will be a complex debate but the law is often slow to move in these areas and it has been established for some time that systemic failings in our hospitals are no excuse for poor care. These are of course unprecedented times and judges may be persuaded that with resources being stretched it is inevitable that the system was never going to cope and tough decisions had to be made for the greater good. We shall see.

By Ben Hoare Bell LLP solicitors. For more information visit www.benhoarebell.co.uk.