The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) is calling on the UK’s Law Officers to direct courts to take the unique circumstances of the pandemic into account during any related criminal claim raised against doctors or dentists.
MDDUS, which provides legal support to more than 50,000 doctors, dentists and other healthcare workers, is concerned in particular about the risk of a spike in prosecutions brought under health and safety legislation.
Chris Kenny, CEO of MDDUS, said: “I have written to each of the Law Officers in the UK to raise our significant concern about the likelihood of increased litigation, both compensation claims directly and judicial reviews, against doctors and dentists in the aftermath of the pandemic.
“Right now our members are in many cases risking their own lives to fight the Covid19 pandemic. Yet we know many also have a real fear of being charged with criminal offences arising from their practice.
“The risks facing our members range from health and safety measures to manslaughter. There are many extremely distressing and potentially career damaging professional and financial consequences which will flow from that.”
In addition, MDDUS has urged the Law Officers in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to recognise that the pandemic raises a very specific issue of potential prosecutions to be brought against doctors and dentists as both employers and employees, under the Health and Safety at Work legislation.
Such allegations against doctors and dentists could include claims of a failure to properly protect their employed staff from infection, due to challenges in obtaining high quality personal protective equipment (PPE).
Or, more seriously still, a failure to properly follow official advice which was then superseded in the light of evidence that evolved during the course of the pandemic about both appropriate measures to protect staff and the susceptibility of different groups to the virus.
Mr Kenny added: “I am referring to times where medical practitioners and care staff have been obliged to work in circumstances of acute emergency or urgency without all, or possibly even any, of the appropriate PPE being supplied to them.
“Any such allegation would have a major impact on clinical morale and perhaps even participation rates altogether.
“We are calling for the courts to make clear to doctors and dentists, and their representatives, that any report for prosecution arising from claims around provision of PPE will take into account the circumstances of the pandemic.
“In particular we’re asking that courts attach particular weight to the circumstances and of urgency in which clinical practitioners have been obliged to practice.”