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Nurses need legal protection for care compromised by pandemic, says nursing leader

Nicki Credland calls for legal protection for nurses as staffing pressures continue

Nicki Credland calls for legal protection for nurses as COVID-19 causes overwhelming staffing pressures

Nurses need more legal protection if they are unable to provide the patient care they would like to during the COVID-19 pandemic, a leading nurse says.

Pandemic-related staffing pressures compromise care

Nicki Credland

British Association of Critical Care Nurses chair Nicki Credland said every nurse in the NHS feels unable to provide the level of care to patients that they would want to due to the current staffing pressures caused by the crisis.

You cant provide the same standard of care when youre looking after four times more patients that you would usually, she said.

The staffing pressures are stark with

Nicki Credland calls for legal protection for nurses as COVID-19 causes overwhelming staffing pressures

Lady Justice on top of the Old Bailey in London.
Picture: iStock

Nurses need more legal protection if they are unable to provide the patient care they would like to during the COVID-19 pandemic, a leading nurse says.

Pandemic-related staffing pressures compromise care

British Association of Critical Care Nurses chair Nicki Credland
Nicki Credland

British Association of Critical Care Nurses chair Nicki Credland said every nurse in the NHS feels unable to provide the level of care to patients that they would want to due to the current staffing pressures caused by the crisis.

‘You can’t provide the same standard of care when you’re looking after four times more patients that you would usually,’ she said.

The staffing pressures are stark with NHS England statistics showing that on 6 January, 99,934 NHS staff were off sick and 49,704 of them either had COVID-19 or were self-isolating. This combined with the demand for beds and staff working outside of their normal duties means that there is more chance of human error when delivering patient care.

Care professionals should all have greater legal protection

Ms Credland continued: ‘Staff are more likely to make mistakes or be involved in direct patient safety incidents and are – through no fault of their own – in a potentially difficult situation further down the line.’

The Medical Protection Society (MPS), among others, recently wrote to health secretary Matt Hancock in a letter, Emergency legislation needed to protect healthcare professionals at risk of inappropriate legal challenge when treating COVID-19 patients, asking for greater legal protection.

Ms Credland said greater legal protection is something she would support for all care professions.

Without such protection, she said it would fall to regulators, such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), to take the COVID-19 context into account in any future action against nurses.

NMC reiterates pledge that context will count when it assesses practice

The NMC recently reiterated its commitment to take into account the pressures of the pandemic in a letter to the profession.

The joint letter with the UK’s chief nursing officers stated: ‘In March last year we outlined how nursing and midwifery professionals must continue to adhere to the core principles of nursing and midwifery practice. As registered professionals we should always practise in line with the NMC code and use our professional judgement, taking account of the realities of an abnormal emergency situation. The NMC code is here to support us and, even in the most difficult of circumstances, is a valuable tool to help guide practice.’

Nurses and other health professionals responding to the pandemic are covered under existing state-backed indemnity schemes, with additional protection under the Clinical Negligence Scheme for Coronavirus, which is designed to fill any unforeseen gaps in cover. However, the MPS and other healthcare organisations argue this does not provide healthcare professionals with specific protection from certain legal challenges.

Employers and the NMC must support nurses

RCN head of legal services (regulatory) Roz Hooper said employers and the NMC must support nurses in the aftermath of an incident.

‘It is vitally important that nursing staff making decisions in unprecedented circumstances do not carry the extra burden of being afraid that the regulator, employer or police may later discipline them for their actions,’ she said.

‘They need to know that circumstances will be taken into account were they to face any investigation.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the government was confident that existing arrangments would cover staff in the majority of incidents: 'Dedicated front-line NHS staff should be able to focus on treating patients and saving lives during the pandemic without fear of legal action.'

The spokesperson added: 'We have reassured NHS staff that existing indemnity arrangements will rightly continue to cover the vast majority of liabilities which may arise, and we have made specific arrangements so any member of staff not covered by existing indemnity schemes will be protected under the Coronavirus Act.'


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