The time of the COVID-19 epidemic is a difficult time for everyone. Staff shortages , longer than standard on-call duties of medical staff, affect faster pace of work and more fatigue among medical staff. This increases the risk of medical errors.
The definition of medical error can be derived from the content of article 4 of the Act on the Medical and Dental Profession, according to which, a doctor is obliged to practice his profession in accordance with the current medical knowledge, available methods and means of prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases, in accordance with the principles of professional ethics and with due diligence, as well as in accordance with the applicable legal standards. The legal norms and their doctrinal interpretation allow for equality of interests of both parties, medical professionals and the patient. On the one hand, the law protects the interest of the patient by imposing an obligation on medical professionals to comply with the applicable legal norms, and in the event of their infringement, the patient may, on the basis of the relevant provisions, pursue claims. On the other hand, the law equally protects medical professionals from incurring liability for consequences of medical interventions which are adverse to the patient and which are not their fault.
Medical errors are pandemic in nature, and the system in Poland, as well as in other countries, is not prepared for events of such suddenness and scope. Hospitals are burdened with a number of new problems and are also struggling with basic problems such as underfunding, lack of equipment and protective measures and staff shortages. In view of the exacerbations and overworking occurring, attention should be paid to the overworking and overtiredness of medical staff, which directly and proportionally increases the number of medical errors. Medical errors during an epidemic can be divided into those that are directly related to the fight against the epidemic and those that arise in connection with the treatment of all the other diseases under pandemic conditions.
It should be borne in mind that hospitals, and therefore their staff, may be exempt from liability for medical errors made during an epidemic if they occurred for reasons beyond the control of the facility (e.g. lack of equipment, medicines or incomplete and overworked medical staff).
However, it should be pointed out that patients have the right to bring claims both in respect of the coronavirus which may have infected them as a result of their stay in hospital, and in respect of the failure to receive, or receipt of, inadequate or late medical assistance.
Claims of patients for medical error during a pandemic do not differ from those for other types of errors in the treatment process: compensation, damages, pension, determination of liability for the future. Patients can use the same solutions that were in force before the pandemic, i.e. civil and criminal law instruments, or submit an appropriate application to the relevant Regional Commission for Adjudication of Medical Events.