Posted On / 04.02.2020

Medical Negligence and the General Practitioner

General Practitioners in this country offer the first tier of healthcare.  They are the access point for a range of care services and a necessary channel of referral for specialist treatment.

Holding this pivotal position, it is imperative that they provide good quality care.

In the unfortunate and uncommon event that care is deficient, it is possible for patients to sue General Practitioners for clinical negligence.

Who is responsible?
In these days where the notion of having a “family doctor” is becoming less usual, very often care is provided by more than one GP at a practice.  Care may also be provided by staff working at the surgery, such as nursing and other support staff.

Many GP surgeries are run as individual practices.  However, it is becoming increasingly common for GP surgeries to be grouped together under a management company.

Each General Practitioner generally operates as a self-employed individual.  They carry their own liability insurance.  The insurer will organise lawyers to represent the GP.  Other support staff are likely to be employees of the GP surgery as a whole, and the surgery will hold insurance for them.

Care which is below standard
GPs are not, and cannot be, experts in every discipline.  They are, as the name suggests, General Practitioners.  This means that, although a patient can expect GPs to diagnose common conditions, GPs are not necessarily expected to diagnose complex medical problems.  Where necessary, though, they should make an appropriate and timely referral to an expert for a diagnosis.  For example, one crucial requirement of GPs is to comply with the system for suspected cancer cases using the fast-track referral system which triggers a hospital appointment within two weeks.

In bringing any claim for medical negligence, including against a GP, it is necessary to prove the following two elements:

1. That the patient received below-standard treatment.  This is known as breach of duty of care to the patient.  This means that the GP’s actions must be shown to be below the standard reasonably expected of a General Practitioner.  

2. That this deficient care caused the patient to suffer additional illness or injury.

To put the tests into context, common concerns include: 

  • Delay in diagnosing a condition
  • Delay in referring to hospital for expert diagnosis
  • Wrong diagnosis
  • Wrong treatment
  • Prescribing errors
  • Failure to communicate abnormal results and to organise treatment

In respect of the last example, GPs receive each day results of a range of medical tests.  It is important that each is scrutinised and assessed as to whether the patient requires any treatment.  It is common practice for patients to be told that if they hear nothing, they can assume that the result of the test investigation is normal and that no treatment is required.  This means that the responsibility falls entirely on the GP to check and communicate results, in order to prevent patients falling through the net and missing out on important treatment.

Taking action
If you are concerned that you have received below-standard care and that this has impacted on your health, we encourage you to call us.  We can provide initial advice and may well suggest in the first instance that you raise a formal complaint.  You can do this either by contacting the surgery direct or by contacting NHS England.

If you are concerned about care received by you or a loved one and want to pursue the matter, please be aware that strict deadlines for taking action apply.  All Claimants have three years after the incident, or after the date of knowledge that care was deficient, to bring the claim to Court.

We encourage anyone concerned with the level of care to take advice at an early stage, as the three-year period can be beneficially utilised to analyse the claim and gain evidence.  It is also quite possible that the claim can settle within this period before any need to approach the courts.

If you are concerned with care you have received by a General Practitioner or at a GP surgery, please contact us on: 01935 846131 or by email: victoria.knight@battens.co.uk