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Urgent action needed to clear referral backlog and avert tsunami of claims and investigations

Post date: 11/06/2020 | Time to read article: 2 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 11/06/2020

The Government must commit adequate resource and support to clearing the backlog of referrals and delayed follow-ups in secondary care if we are to avoid a potential patient safety crisis and a tsunami of future claims or investigations, Medical Protection said today.

The call follows a plea from the British Medical Association for the government to be honest with the public about the scale of the task ahead and outline a credible plan prioritising the sickest patients left without treatment, and a report by the NHS Confederation warning that 10 million people will be on the waiting list for NHS treatment by Christmas.

A survey of Medical Protection members (conducted by Research By Design)  has also revealed that more than 2 in 5 doctors (43%) are concerned that they will face a regulatory or criminal investigation if patients come to harm as a result of delayed referrals or non-Covid-19 services being unavailable or limited.

Medical Protection – the world’s leading protection organisation supporting over 300,000 healthcare professionals around the world – said patients, doctors and the NHS may suffer without action.

Dr Rob Hendry, Medical Director, said: “The need to reduce the number of patients attending healthcare facilities and the suspension of routine investigations and outpatient appointments has resulted in a large backlog of referrals across many specialities and in many centres.

“It will take some time for all services to be up and running normally. Covid-19 will continue to bring pressures and complications, compounded by the upcoming winter, and this is on top of the referral back log.

“Buried within these many delayed referrals will be patients with serious conditions, not yet identified. For some, if diagnoses are missed or significantly delayed this could seriously impact those patients’ prognoses and outcomes. It’s not difficult to see how we could be facing another different kind of patient safety crisis.  

“The prospect of an adverse outcome under these circumstances would be devastating for any patient, and the psychological impact on the already emotionally and physically exhausted doctors involved would be significant. Such situations may also give rise to a tsunami of medicolegal disputes, claims and investigations – indeed more than two in five of our members tell us they’re concerned about this.

“We continue to press the Government for emergency laws to protect doctors from investigations arising from impossible situations like this. But our hope is that through Government led planning, support, resource and sharing of best practice and learnings, the referral backlog will be dealt with expeditiously and any looming crisis averted.”


Notes to editors

For further information contact: +44 (0)7515 298791.

About Medical Protection

Medical Protection is a trading name of The Medical Protection Society Limited (“MPS”). MPS is the world’s leading protection organisation for doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals. We protect and support the professional interests of more than 300,000 members around the world. Membership provides access to expert advice and support and can also provide, depending on the type of membership required, the right to request indemnity for any complaints or claims arising from professional practice.

Our in-house experts assist with the wide range of legal and ethical problems that arise from professional practice. This can include clinical negligence claims, complaints, medical and dental council inquiries, legal and ethical dilemmas, disciplinary procedures, inquests and fatal accident inquiries.

Our philosophy is to support safe practice in medicine and dentistry by helping to avert problems in the first place. We do this by promoting risk management through our workshops, E-learning, clinical risk assessments, publications, conferences, lectures and presentations.

MPS is not an insurance company. All the benefits of membership of MPS are discretionary as set out in the Memorandum and Articles of Association.

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