Dr Blogs

What is a hospital’s duty of care to staff during the pandemic?

The duty of an employer to identify and evaluate the risks to an employee’s health applies to hospitals – public or private – as it would any other employer.

Where a risk is identified, an employer must take steps to remove that risk, or if that is not reasonably practicable, implement measures to control the hazard that it poses.

Covid-19 clearly cannot be removed from a doctor’s or nurse’s workplace – that is simply the nature of the service hospitals provide – but measures can be taken to control and reduce the risk.

Key among such measures is for the adequate provision of suitable personal protective equipment (PPE), but in the context of Covid-19, an employer should also look to implement effective ventilation, ensure that suitable and sufficient warning signs are displayed, and have appropriate decontamination and disinfection procedures.

Of importance going forward, an employer must provide a vaccine, once available, to all employees likely to be exposed to Covid-19.

Any medical professional contracting Covid-19 at work should have that reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as it is a reportable disease.

Healthcare workers affected by a lack of PPE should raise their concerns with their employer to see what PPE can be sourced, particularly going forward as supply starts to meet demand.

Discussions about alternative working arrangements – perhaps away from Covid-19 patients entirely – can be had, though that obviously cannot be a solution for all or long term.

An employer’s occupational health department should be able to assist in arranging appropriate treatment, including counselling, as part of its general duties for an employee’s health and safety at work for those affected by Covid-19.

If a healthcare worker has contracted or died from Covid-19 as a result of their employment, they or their family may be entitled to bring a civil claim against the employer.

Each case will be fact sensitive however, and in the context of a global pandemic, not all failures of the employer will necessarily be viewed as negligent by the Courts.

A detailed discussion with a suitable lawyer would be needed to explore the prospects of any potential claim succeeding.

Mark Jackson is a Chartered Legal Executive at Lime Solicitors

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