The coronavirus outbreak has led to a significant increase in demand for healthcare services. It is perhaps inevitable that this outbreak will unfortunately expose staff to the virus, and this may therefore lead to fewer staff being available to provide healthcare services. Consequently, it is likely that healthcare professionals will be required to assist in dealing with the response to the coronavirus outbreak and may, in some instances, be asked to undertake NHS activities that are not part of their usual healthcare role. For example, dentists and GP practice nurses may be asked to assist staff in NHS hospitals in administering injections and medication that would normally only be administered by medical and nursing staff in hospitals.

Proposed changes in the Coronavirus Emergency Bill

The Government has proposed an indemnity clause within the Coronavirus Emergency Bill. This is intended to enable the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the Welsh Minister to provide indemnity for clinical negligence liabilities of healthcare professionals and others arising from NHS activities carried out as part of the response to a coronavirus outbreak. An indemnity is security or protection against financial liability; as such, healthcare professionals will be afforded greater protection when asked to perform a wider range of tasks as a result of a coronavirus outbreak.

Medical Defence Organisation membership

It is important to note that this will not cover healthcare professionals who have indemnity cover for the clinical negligence in question through a private Medical Defence Organisation (MDO), a professional body or where they have commercial insurance. As such, and in keeping with the advice we ordinarily give to doctors, those who are returning to or commencing NHS practice should consider obtaining membership of a defence organisation or an insurance product. This will cover the possibility that advice or support may be required in respect of complaints or investigations arising from NHS work; the proposed indemnity in the Bill will only cover costs and damages relating to claims in negligence and not disciplinary, regulatory or police investigations. Media reports have indicated that some of the defence organisations are willing to provide free membership to former members returning to practice during the Covid-19 pandemic.