It’s impossible at the moment to predict the future as our normal way of life is disrupted in every area due to Covid-19. However once life returns to normal, be that in weeks or months from now, what sort of issues might we see arising in litigation arising in social care?
The first and most obvious point is that the claims market will likely see a significant upsurge. At the moment prospective claimants will probably not see making a claim for damages as a top priority.
In terms of claims that particularly relate to the issues surrounding Covid-19 in the social care sector, it’s easy to see that the present position with Covid-19 will put pressure on the system that is already underfunded and under strain. For example, BLM’s care team often sees claims that relate to inadequate staffing levels – in the normal course of things that might for example relate to residents’ falls whilst unsupervised. In the current climate, care and nursing homes may suffer from even more inadequate staffing ratios due to staff being off sick and/or self isolating,
NHS staff like district nurses or GPs who might visit to for example, change dressings on pressure sores or undertake routine examination might be unavailable due to being redeployed into more front line services. The question is then how a home deals with managing difficult situations like a severe pressure sore when their staff are not qualified or equipped to deal with it?
In the domiciliary care sector, it’s imaginable that family or friends might have to provide care because a regular carer might not be able to attend due to sickness/self isolation. And potentially if carers didn’t turn up, elderly or disabled persons could suffer falls or miss medication.
Looking at the situation from the employer’s liability perspective, there could be Employment Tribunal type claims by employees who consider they are unreasonably being expected to work longer than their contracted hours. Social care workers are also at an increased risk of contracting Covid-19 if they are caring for persons with the virus, as they will be in close contact. So claims for failure to provide proper PPE or risk assessing the risk leading to the development of Covid-19 are likely. And if care homes are short staffed then greater pressure will be put on those staff working which could of course leading to claims like RSI or back injury, or indeed of course claims for general stress at work.
There is no crystal ball at present to see how this situation will play out, but certainly it does seem that sometime in the near future, claim numbers are likely to rise sharply.
Written by Jennifer Johnston at BLM