Many NHS treatments have been pushed back due to the Covid pandemic, with the number of people waiting for hospital treatment in England hitting a record high amid the coronavirus crisis.
According to NHS England, an estimated 4.66 million people were waiting to begin treatment at the end of January this year. This is the highest since records began in August 2007.
But what are your legal rights if your treatment or procedure has been pushed back due to Covid?
Here’s what you need to know, according to Hannah Luscombe, Senior Solicitor at Patient Claim Line.
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‘Patients are often experiencing severe levels of pain and discomfort’
Ms Luscombe says more and more patients are being added to waiting lists on a daily basis for ‘non-urgent’ surgeries, which includes hip replacements and non-urgent vascular or procedures.
However, “in the meantime, these patients are often experiencing severe levels of pain and discomfort and are unable to carry on with their daily lives as a result,” Ms Luscombe adds.
“In many of these cases it is often the case that the sooner treatment is received, the better the chances are for long-term recovery.”
Addressing the prioritisation of procedures during the Covid pandemic, Ms Luscombe says “there are always stories in the NHS of patients admitted on the day of surgery, only to have it cancelled as new, emergency patients had to take priority. One would anticipate that this will remain the case.”
However, she says that the difference now will be that instead of having to prioritise emergency vs non-emergency procedures, for at least the next 3 months the priority will be between patients who require treatment for Covid-19 and emergency patients who require procedures.
Where can I go to get treatment?
In regards to your right to receive the type of medical treatment you need from the NHS, you are firstly entitled to treatment from a GP at the surgery where you are registered, Ms Luscombe says.
You are only able to receive NHS hospital treatment when you are referred by your GP - unless you need urgent medical attention in an emergency, in which you can go directly to A&E without needing a referral from your GP.
Addressing where you can go to receive your treatment, Ms Luscombe notes that when you are referred for a hospital appointment, “you can choose to go to any NHS hospital that provides that service.”
“You have the right to choose a team or consultant, provided that your referring doctor agrees that your choice is appropriate. You can choose a team based at any hospital,” she adds.
“You are also entitled to get a second opinion after seeing a consultant. You will need to request this from the consultant or your GP.”
Note: the above may vary depending on where you live in the UK.
Can I claim compensation if my surgery or treatment has been delayed?
In regards to claiming compensation if your general surgery or treatment has been delayed, Ms Luscombe explains that “compensation is only payable if a patient can establish that their treatment has been delayed as a result of negligence.”
She notes that every case is different and expert medical evidence is generally required in order to accurately value a claim.
However, “Depending on the facts of each case, a patient could be entitled to compensation for the additional months of pain and suffering they have experienced,” she says.
If a patient’s injury has worsened as a result of the delayed treatment and the surgery required is more complex than would otherwise have been required - potentially with a worse prognosis and associated time off work - then “they would be entitled to compensation for their additional injuries and resultant financial losses,” adds Ms Luscombe.