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In a medical negligence claim an opinion from an independent medical expert is almost always an imperative part of the investigation process. In order to assess the current condition and future prognosis of a Claimant it would normally be very unusual for an expert not to want to see the Claimant in person. As with so much that has happened in 2020, Covid has changed this.

A medical examination in respect of a medical negligence claim, in most cases, will no longer be deemed a necessity, in view of national guidance to minimise face to face appointments. Medical experts have guidance from the GMC (General Medical Council) that says while they must not place patients at risk of harm unnecessarily, if an examination is necessary face to face appointments are not prohibited. Claimants are regularly required to travel cross country for medico legal appointments. At these appointments they would be required to meet hospital staff and interact with the expert during the examination. In the current circumstances it would be difficult to argue that this is ‘necessary’. As a consequence, where possible, since March 2020 many medical experts are now seeing patients virtually with a video conference.

There are of course pros and cons to appointments occurring this way.

The pros:

  • No travel for expert or Claimant.
  • Waiting times for appointments can be shorter.

Experts have long waiting lists for appointments. Recently, in some cases waiting times for appointments are shorter as the expert isn’t having to travel and they are able to fit in more appointments and the waiting lists are shorter.

  • Reports are produced more quickly.

I understand that this is because the expert will consider the Claimant’s medical records in advance and is in a position to finalise a report immediately following the appointment where usually time wouldn’t allow.

  • Claimants who have moved abroad can have an appointment in the same timeframe as those who live in the UK.

When a face to face appointment is required a Claimant who is abroad can often wait much longer whilst they negotiate the logistics of travelling to the UK.

The cons:

  • In many cases a physical examination is still required.  For example, where subtleties of a joint injury need to be seen or an internal examination is required.
  • An expert will often assess the Claimants demeanour when they walk into their consulting room. This is no longer possible.

In my own practice the positives currently outweigh the negatives. Over the last few months I have found that both Claimants and experts are preferring the change and are pleased that they are not required to travel. The lack of examination has not been detrimental to cases and it is most appreciated that cases aren’t being stalled by the current Covid restrictions.  The subtleties that are not seen in a virtual appointment in most cases will not prevent progression of a case.

As a safeguard, in every report the expert confirms that the appointment took place virtually and there may need to be a face to face appointment further down the line. In other cases, virtual appointments just aren’t possible because of the nature of the injury.  Where it is necessary as soon as an appointment can be scheduled safely, we will arrange this.

We don’t want Claimant’s to have to wait any longer to conclude their case than is absolutely necessary, so we are pleased that in some cases virtual appointments have been possible.  At Graystons, we welcome change that benefits our clients.

If you are concerned with regard to attending a medico legal appointment whilst Covid restrictions are in place, please contact one of our specialist team and we will be happy to discuss your options.

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As reported by BBC News, during the period of April – June 2020, there were 40 stillbirths after labour began, compared with only 24 during the same period in 2019. The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch has advised that they will be investigating the reasons for this and they plan to publish their findings in 2021.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have expressed real concern about the figures and are urging women to attend their antenatal appointments.

The president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Dr Edward Morris, commenting on a survey which reported that 86% of maternity units saw fewer heavily women present with emergency issues during April, suggested that this may have been due to confusion about whether or not these appointments were essential, fear of attending a hospital or not wanting to burden the NHS.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists are carrying out their own investigation into the indirect effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on pregnancy outcomes. They are also urging hospitals not to redeploy maternity staff during the second wave.

It is well reported that the Covid-19 pandemic is having an effect on patients’ access to not only maternity care but many other kinds of healthcare services and treatment. There can be no doubt that clinical negligence claims in relation to the difficulties that covid-19 has caused will likely have to be handled differently to cases where the reasons for these difficulties were unrelated to Covid-19. This is because account will inevitably need to be taken of the challenges faced by the NHS and, as a result, careful consideration will likely need to be given to whether or not Covid-19 was a valid reason for the difficulties in accessing these services and treatments.

If you believe that you, or a loved one, have suffered harm due to an inability to access healthcare services and/or treatment throughout the pandemic, one of our specialist clinical negligence solicitors would be happy to speak with you and advise you as to your options, including a formal complaint and a legal claim. There is no initial charge for discussing this with us and we will talk you through your options, including how to fund a case and the possibility of a no win no fee arrangement (conditional fee agreement or CFA)”

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As a result of the pandemic, patients accessing medical treatment during lock-down have faced cancellations and seen their treatment coming to a standstill. In some cases telephone or video appointments have been offered and NHS bodies including NHS England have encouraged both telephone and video consultations as a means of patients receiving ongoing healthcare.

According to NHS England, the decision to offer this type of appointment is to be made on a case by case basis, by an appropriate medical professional, and should be assessed based on the patient’s individual circumstances and care needs.

Many hospital trusts are highlighting cost and time savings for the NHS, as well as the additional convenience for elderly and disabled patients who struggle to attend appointments. 

 There is however a concern that reducing face to face consultations will lead to symptoms and conditions being overlooked, or missed entirely. It is also unclear what part the patient is able to play in making the decision about whether to see someone in person or attend a telephone or video consultation.

 At Graystons, we have years of experience in acting for patients with medical negligence claims. Although the use of technology as a means to benefit patients is to be welcomed,  it is clear from our extensive experience of dealing with medical negligence claims that there is no substitute for a thorough physical examination and proper history obtained from from the patient in person.

If you are concerned about treatment provided to you or a loved one, please contact one of our specialist medical negligence solicitors who will be happy to discuss things with you. There is no charge for this initial advice and we will be able to discuss your options, including how to fund a legal claim and the possibility of a no win no fee agreement.

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During these uncertain times, please be assured that Graystons Solicitors are working hard to maintain continuity and progression of your medical negligence claim.

Your Team are contactable directly by email and we are always only a phone call away on 0151 645 0055. If you have concerns regarding yours or a loved one’s treatment for Covid-19, we are aware that this is a continually evolving situation; however, a member of Graystons would be happy to discuss these with you. Whilst we cannot be certain that there will be a viable claim for clinical negligence or assist with ongoing treatment, we can offer advice, support or assistance to point you in the right direction for further help.

We hope you stay safe and well during this time.