The coronavirus pandemic has put enormous strain on our healthcare system, with our dedicated NHS staff working tirelessly to tend to the thousands of extra patients this unforgiving virus has generated.
As the Covid-19 crisis has deepened, increased hospitalisations have forced most routine or elective surgery to be halted, numerous outpatient appointments and referrals have been delayed, and screening and tests for medical conditions were deferred or cancelled.
Even in less extraordinary times, it is common for non-emergency operations to be cancelled, whether because of a shortage of beds, equipment failure, unavailability of staff, or because emergency cases need to take priority.
However, although increased delays were inevitable given the serious impact of the coronavirus, as our experts in the medical negligence team at the Negligence Claimline explain, this does not mean that you have no legal comeback if you suffered additional harm due to your operation being cancelled.
If your operation is cancelled, there are a number of rules in place which aim to lessen the impact this can cause, including rebooking protocols and maximum wait times. The NHS maximum wait time for a cancelled non-urgent operation is 18 weeks.
This means that from the date you receive a referral from your doctor, you should be seen, and hopefully undergo the required treatment within 18 weeks.
The Covid-19 outbreak has led to longer waits for rescheduled surgery, as well as massive backlogs, but if your wait time has extended beyond 18 weeks you are entitled to complain to PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Service) at the hospital or Clinical Commissioning Group, and ask for your care to be moved to another hospital.
If your operation is cancelled on the day your procedure was supposed to take place, you should be offered a new date within 28 days. However, if your procedure is cancelled again in advance, you are not entitled to a new date within 28 days and the wait could be much longer.
If your health has deteriorated because your operation was delayed, this can have a serious impact on your life. You could be left with additional pain and suffering; your mental health might have deteriorated; and you may even be facing financial hardship from being unable to work.
It is natural in such circumstances to want to seek compensation to recompense you for the prolonged suffering you have endured. Whether you are entitled to such compensation will depend on whether the delay in your operation was reasonable or if it amounts to negligence.
To prove negligence, you need to show that the person responsible for the deterioration in your health owed you a duty of care, that they breached that duty of care and that you suffered harm as a result.
For injuries caused by a healthcare professional, the test for negligence that was laid out in Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee (1957) applies, which states that a doctor is negligent if she or he fails to act in accordance with a practice that is considered acceptable by a responsible body of doctors.
This means that you would only be entitled to bring a compensation claim against the person who cancelled your operation if other healthcare professionals would not have thought the delay was a reasonable and proportionate course of action.
A specialist medical negligence lawyer will be able to advise you on whether or not you have a viable claim.
For confidential legal advice on this or any other medical negligence issue, contact us today for a free initial consultation with one of our specialist medical negligence solicitors on 01245 253214 or email [email protected]
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.