Returning to practice during COVID-19: Professional liability considerations

31 March 2020

Medical authorities are beginning to recruit retired medical professionals to bolster their resources to respond to COVID-19.[1]

Countries around the globe are launching emergency recruitment plans, including Spain, which is looking to add 50,000 health care workers, including retired doctors. Similarly, the UK has reached out to 65,000 retired professionals.[2] Canada is also experiencing a large surge in health care professionals coming out of retirement to help with the response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Studies conducted of survivors following SARS and Ebola showed the effects of quarantine on individuals' mental health, including diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.[3] Additionally, survivors of SARS and Ebola exhibited long-term physical limitations that affected their occupational and social participation.[4]

We expect a need for medical professionals including physiotherapists, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, social workers and psychologists to assist communities in responding to similar physical and mental health concerns relating to COVID-19.

In returning to practice, medical professionals must remember that the care they provide in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic must comply with prevailing standards of practice and can give rise to College complaints and civil litigation. The presence of COVID-19 does not absolve professionals of the requirement to operate in accordance with the prevailing rules, codes of conduct and standards of practice.

If you are a retired professional who is returning to practice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to obtaining a practice permit from your College, it is critical that you have appropriate professional liability insurance in place to support you in the event that complaints or legal action arise from the care provided.

Many Colleges have provided guidance on retired professionals applying for practice permits, to assist in expediting those requests. We encourage you to consult your College's website for the most current information and to reach out to your professional liability insurer to obtain the appropriate coverage.


[1] Lowrie, Morgan (Mar 17, 2020) "COVID-19: Thousands of doctors, nurses rally to government call to fight coronavirus" National Post at https://nationalpost.com/news/thousands-of-doctors-nurses-answer-call-to-help-with-covid-19-effort

Ritchie, Sarah (Mar 17, 2020) "Doctors, nurses coming out of retirement to help New Brunswick and Nova Scotia's COVID-19 response" Global News at https://globalnews.ca/news/6689273/doctors-nurses-coming-out-of-retirement-to-help-new-brunswick-and-nova-scotias-covid-19-response/

Zavarise, Isabella (Mar 20, 2020) "College of Physicians and Surgeons of P.E.I. fast-tracking licensing in response to COVID-19" CBC News at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-college-of-physicians-and-surgeons-licensing-covid-19-2020-1.5504521

Kaufmann, Bill (Mar 24, 2020) "Recruitment of retired doctors, nurses set to begin as fears of COVID-19 patient surge build" Calgary Herald at https://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/recruitment-of-retired-doctors-nurses-set-to-begin-as-fears-of-covid-19-patient-surge-build/

[2] Minder, Raphael and Elian Peltier (Mar 24, 2020) "Virus knocks thousands of health workers out of action in Europe" The New York Times at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/24/world/europe/coronavirus-europe-covid-19.html<

Al-Arshani, Sarah (Mar 3, 2020) "The healthcare system in Italy's Lombardy region is so strained from the new coronavirus that officials are asking doctors to come out of retirement and nursing students are being fast-tracked to graduation" Business Insider at https://www.businessinsider.com/italys-lombardy-regions-healthcare-system-is-crumbling-to-covid-19-2020-3

Faulconbridge, Guy (Mar 20, 2020) "Coronavirus: U.K. calls on 65,000 retired nurses and doctors to return to work" Global News at https://globalnews.ca/news/6706829/coronavirus-britain-nurses-doctors/

[3] Hawrylcuk, Laura et al. (2004) SARS Control and Psychological Effects of Quarantine, Toronto, Canada. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 10(7) at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3323345/

[4] Landry et al. (2020) Early reflection on the global impact of COVID19, and implications for physiotherapy. Physiotherapy Journal at https://www.physiotherapyjournal.com/article/S0031-9406(20)30025-0/fulltext


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