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2021 med mal dominated by pandemic aftermath

  • Market Insight 31 December 2020 31 December 2020
  • Global

  • Insurance 2021 - the year ahead

For the medical malpractice market, 2021 will be a year defined by Covid-19 and the nation’s response to it. Indeed, it’s reasonable to assume that the next 2–3 years will be dominated by claims arising from the pandemic, exacerbated by the resulting backlog in the court system.

With so many issues crying out for scrutiny, many in the healthcare profession will welcome a public inquiry into the government’s response to the pandemic. High on the agenda will be care homes. Allegations around the moving of untested patients into care homes in the early stages of the pandemic and the inability of families to visit their loved ones – even when some were dying of the disease – caused severe anxiety. Families are angry at the lack of communication on all sides. 

Many small independent care homes could find their futures under threat as a result. The insurance market’s retreat from the sector combined with the damage that many have suffered to their reputations due to Covid-19 fatalities on their premises, even though they may not have been at fault. Staff and management are demoralised.  If these homes do close, it will increase the pressure on an already creaking social care system.

The manner in which we access GP services has been fundamentally changed by the pandemic. Physical appointments have been replaced in a large part by telephone and online consultations. However, not being able to touch the patient, to feel a swelling or a lump, will potentially result in incidents of misdiagnosis. Even prior to the pandemic, we saw frequent claims against the out-of-hours services. Basic maths suggests that the volume of misdiagnosis claims will rise in 2021 and beyond. When and whether GP service return to more face-to-face-based medicine is yet to be seen. Some form of telemedicine going forward could be an advantage for some. 

As a result of the pandemic, other medical treatment has been delayed or cancelled. As a result, some patients’ conditions have worsened or become terminal. Private hospitals that entered into contracts with the NHS to provide capacity may have led to some private patients also being adversely affected.

The new Covid-19 vaccines and the mass vaccination programme will doubtless result in issues. Regardless of the safety of the vaccines, antivax sentiments, conspiracy theories and misunderstandings will lead some to point a legal finger at the administration of vaccines. Already, the British media has focused on a few cases of severe allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine, which will increase concerns in some quarters. That said, there remain questions about the vaccines that are yet to be answered. For example, their effects on pregnant women or the impact of failing to store the Pfizer vaccine at the correct temperature.

A public inquiry will undoubtedly put many claims on hold, but the reality is that the next 2–3 years will be exceptionally busy for the medical malpractice sector as the country comes to terms with so many decisions made under difficult circumstances. The disease may be suppressed by vaccinations next year, but its repercussions will continue for the foreseeable future.

View all our Insurance 2021 predictions here

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