The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown triggered an immediate halt and re-assessment of care needs and rehabilitation packages in serious injury cases. The immediate concern for serious injury practitioners was how to ensure our clients were being looked after and supported during what became an incredibly difficult time for injured parties and their families. Innovative thinking and collaboration between parties was the first step towards finding a solution.
At Digby Brown LLP, we were fortunate to be in the position to transition smoothly into working from home and still support our clients in whatever way we could. There was no delay in addressing the individual needs of clients when the decision to lockdown was taken.
Rehabilitation is key in serious injury cases and the aim was, and still is, to ensure continuity of rehabilitation and care where possible. Many of our clients are already very vulnerable and rely heavily on the support that comes from their case managers and the packages put in place around them. Inevitably, these were stopped in the initial period after lockdown and family members often had to step in, which added pressure to the family unit, during what was already an anxious time. We were conscious to address this as quickly as possible.
We have seen service providers working hard to find safe and suitable ways and means of supporting our clients. There has been a real shift in the use of technology. Although virtual rehabilitation cannot replace face to face contact in all cases, it has been an excellent alternative during this unprecedented time. It has allowed therapies such as psychological treatment, physiotherapy and case management meetings to continue and many of our clients are very grateful for that support. It is also being administered in a way that honours social distancing and this in itself is a comfort to clients who are worried about the risk of infection or for those who are high risk patients due to their injuries. Time will tell to what extent virtual interventions will continue but it may well be the new norm going forward in appropriate cases.
A key role of the case manager is to manage the NHS input alongside private provision of services to ensure that the individual obtains maximum benefit. Given the pressure on the NHS and the ever extending waiting lists as a result of COVID-19 and the redirection of services, it is likely that there will be more of an emphasis on accessing privately funded therapies and care as part of the claim process. The test is always reasonableness but pursuers have a right to access private treatment in personal injury cases and it is even more important when waiting lists are lengthy. Scotland has faced a longer lockdown than other areas of the UK and services are only beginning to open back up but are already under pressure. One of the key principles in serious injury cases is to ensure individuals gain access to rehabilitation in order that they have the best chance to recover. It might be that in the short to medium term, NHS services simply cannot be relied upon whilst they remain over-whelmed. Insurers may try to take issue with this but hopefully a pragmatic approach will be adopted.
As practitioners, we must be mindful of discussing the impact of lockdown on pursuers and what additional needs they might have as a consequence of it. Some clients have found the relative ‘quiet’ of lockdown has made their recovery a little easier, whilst others, particularly with more complex needs, have found it incredibly difficult. The knock on effect is that care and rehabilitation packages require to be re-assessed and often additional funding will be required. Medical evidence also has to be updated to ensure that the effects of lockdown and any repercussions are included within the claim. This in itself has proved to be problematic when only a face to face appointment is appropriate instead of the video platform alternative.
We find ourselves in a challenging time but as practitioners, we must look at each case individually and fully investigate and understand the consequences of lockdown and the pandemic for each client. Some clients have embraced technology and others have missed face to face contact and may require a re-assessment of the rehabilitation package in place. The use of technology is overwhelming for some and that also must be borne in mind. The likelihood is that the cost estimates that are currently in place are likely to fluctuate. Our role remains to ensure that individuals are compensated fully and all rehabilitation and care needs are properly assessed in the context of facing recovery during a pandemic