GPs and how they can be responsible for medical negligence

Negligence can be defined as behaviour or conduct that falls below a certain standard of care that would normally be used in a similar set of circumstances. When we are ill, we expect a certain standard of care to help us on the road to recovery, however in some cases, this is not what is received. Medical negligence claims can occur against, not only doctors and surgeons, but other healthcare professionals including nurses, midwives, dentists, physiotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists.

For most people their first port of call when feeling ill is to visit their GP. The vast majority of patients say they have confidence in their GPs , or general practitioners – however, the General Medical Council (GMC) receives more complaints about GPs than about any other branch of medicine. In fact, in 2009 45% of all complaints to the GMC related to GPs, even though they only make up about 25% of doctors. In addition, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) responsible for insuring over half of GPs in the UK states that the number of medical negligence claims against GPs are rising. These complaints were varied in nature and included delayed and wrong diagnosis, prescription, consent, confidentiality, home visits and out of hours care, and communication and attitude including rudeness.

The most common type of GP negligence

The majority of claims against GPs involve delayed or wrong diagnosis. Misdiagnosis occurs when a condition goes completely undiagnosed, or where it is diagnosed incorrectly. Both delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis can lead to delayed or incorrect treatment for a condition, often with serious ramifications in cases, such as cancer, where time can be a critical factor in effective treatment. Delay and misdiagnosis can be caused by failing to read reports, x-rays and test results, or reading them incorrectly – for example failing to spot a fracture.

Real examples of negligent GP behaviour

There are many examples to be found of misdiagnosis and the consequences of that negligence. These range from cases where a GP failed to notice an abnormal blood test result which indicated diabetes, leading to development of a painful nerve condition known as peripheral neuropathy to the tragic case of a man whose test results indicating that what was believed to be a harmless wart was actually malignant melanoma, a very aggressive form of skin cancer, were filed by his GP with no further action taken. When this mistake was finally recognised five month later, the cancer had already spread to his lymph nodes and resulted in his death.

Another area involving complaints against GPs is prescription errors. Statistics show that every year over 40,000 prescription or medication errors occur in the NHS, including those involving incorrect drug, dose or patient, patient allergies, or reaction between multiple medications. Many of these errors may only have short term effects, however, some result in serious injury or even death, either through use of the wrong drug/dose or from delay of the required treatment.

If you feel you have suffered injury through medical negligence, it is important to seek the support and guidance of a specialist medical solicitor who will be best able to advise further on the best way to move forward.

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