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Rehabilitation for personal injury victims – forty years on

Back when the firm was first opened in 1977, there was very little by way of rehabilitation offered to clients who had sustained personal injuries through no fault of their own.

Over the past 20 to30 years, the benefits of early rehabilitation have been researched and it is now generally accepted that a better outcome is achieved the sooner an injured person receives treatment and rehabilitation. Early rehabilitation can not only benefit the claimant in terms of achieving a quicker or more beneficial recovery, research has also revealed that the right treatment early on, can also save long term costs.

Where personal injuries have been sustained as a result of an accident, it can often take many months, if not years before liability is resolved or a final settlement is achieved. So how can an injured claimant in this situation obtain much needed early rehabilitation and who will pay for this?

Whilst we are fortunate in the UK to have a fantastic NHS, it is common knowledge that the NHS has limited resources and may not have capacity to provide such treatment at an early stage.

Within the field of personal injury claims, a collaborative approach between insurers, Claimants and solicitors was thought to be beneficial and during 1999 the Rehabilitation Code was introduced. Its aim was to achieve for injured person the best and quickest recovery in terms of medical, social and psychological care, with early intervention being the key.

The way claims are now conducted, using the Pre-action Protocol for Personal Injury Claims (which gives a framework as to how claims should be commenced) together with the Rehabilitation Code can mean that in valid cases, claimants can obtain the rehabilitation they need.

But what is the Rehabilitation Code?

The Code states its objective is “to help the injured claimant make the best and quickest possible medical, social, vocational and psychological recovery”.

It is the duty of every claimant solicitor to consider the need for rehabilitation at the outset of all claims, following consultation with the Claimant, the claimant’s family and their treating doctors.

The Code is therefore designed to assist recovery and enable an injured person have a better quality of life and return to work as soon as possible. The amount of rehabilitation required will of course depend upon the severity of the injuries sustained. In more serious cases it is likely to involve the instruction of a medically qualified Case Manager who coordinates, in conjunction with the claimants GP and NHS consultants, additional treatment and for example physical therapy, equipment, nursing care, accommodation adjustments and psychological care.

The Rehabilitation Code is not static. It has been amended over the years to keep up with modern thinking, research and medical development.

For example, in 2004, a report was prepared by the International Underwriting Association of London and the Association of British Insurers which looked at ‘Psychology, Personal Injury and Rehabilitation’. The report considered the effects of psychosocial factors on the recovery process both in relation to catastrophic injuries and more minor injuries. It also considered the view that reduced functional capacity was not the same as disability. The report concluded that early psychological and social intervention can prevent deterioration.

In 2015, the Code was amended to include a procedure in relation to the lower value claims of less than £25,000. Following this amendment, it is necessary for those Claimants to provide details of what rehabilitation may be required in the claim notification forms. The compensators is then to respond within 21 days to confirm whether or not it agrees to fund this.

An Immediate Needs Assessment or Triage assessment will then be carried out with a report provided simultaneously to the Claimant’s Solicitor and the compensator, with the compensator to respond to the rehabilitation recommendations within prescribed time frames.

When agreeing to provide and pay for treatment under the Code, the compensator is not agreeing liability. It will, however, be unable to recoup any costs incurred in the event that the claimant’s claim fails.

Seeking early rehabilitation

Rehabilitation is important. Failing to seek early treatment can lead to a downwards spiral of pain, suffering and psychological symptoms. The longer the symptoms continue without treatment the greater likelihood of psychological symptoms and chronic pain conditions developing.

It is not rocket science that injured people want their life back. It is now recognised that multi-disciplinary care can make an overwhelming difference to outcome and under the remit of the Rehabilitation Code solicitors and compensators can collaborate to achieve this.