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Navigating the changing medico-legal landscape in New Zealand

The New Zealand health system is undergoing a significant transition with the COVID-19 pandemic compounding the delays in services, which has resulted in more than 67,000 people waiting to see a specialist. The waiting times in emergency departments have also increased, leading to people leaving without treatment and in at least one recent incident, dying later.

These challenges potentially lead to increased medico-legal liability for doctors (and other health practitioners), which is of growing concern to medical indemnity insurance providers.

According to the Health and Disability Commission (HDC), the number of complaints received has increased by 14 per cent from the previous year, with 2,721 complaints received in 2020/21. This trend is likely to continue, and doctors in roles where systemic problems may exist will still have to go through the HDC process, which can be emotionally draining and time-consuming.

As a medical indemnity insurance provider, we understand the challenges that healthcare providers are facing in the current environment. We recognise that medical professionals are doing their best to provide the best possible care for their patients, but the increasing demand for healthcare services and the ongoing pandemic have made it difficult to maintain the same level of care as before.

To protect themselves from liability claims, providers must take certain precautions. An important step is to inform management of their concerns. This will ensure that the hospital/healthcare facility is aware of the challenges that clinicians are facing and can take steps to address them. It is essential to keep records of all such correspondence including printed copies including details of complaints or concerns raised by patients or their families.

It is important to remember that medical indemnity insurance is designed to support clinicians in the face of complaints and to protect against liability in multiple jurisdictions. It does not substitute for good medical practice. Clinicians are expected to provide the best possible care to their patients, despite the challenges they face. By keeping accurate records, communicating concerns with management and colleagues and continuing to prioritise patient care, providers can diffuse responsibility and minimise their liability in the event of complaints or claims.

As a medical indemnity insurance provider, Medicus is committed to supporting healthcare professionals and protecting them against potential liability claims.


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