GPs work under intense pressure but, when they fail to meet the standards expected of them, it is only right that compensation is paid to patients who suffer as a result. In a recent case, a teaching assistant who was left disabled after a GP failed to spot signs of a serious back injury won the right to substantial damages.
The woman was at work when a child with special needs kicked her as she squatted down to pick something up off the floor. She fell forwards, suffering immediate back pain. She was prescribed painkillers, but her condition worsened and she consulted the out-of-hours GP two days after the incident. He diagnosed a case of sciatica and prescribed different painkillers, advising her to come back if she did not improve.
She was in fact suffering from cauda equina syndrome (CES), a serious condition caused by damage to the bundle of nerves below the end of the spinal cord. It was not until two days after she saw the GP that her condition was correctly diagnosed in a hospital accident and emergency department and she underwent surgery.
She launched proceedings against the GP, claiming that the delay in diagnosis and surgical intervention led to serious disabilities which would otherwise have been avoided or at least significantly reduced.
In upholding her claim, the High Court found that the woman had suffered a urinary accident shortly before she saw the GP. She had also described being unsteady on her feet. Both of those symptoms were red flag signs of CES which were there to be found by the GP, but which he had sadly missed.
Despite expressing some sympathy for the GP, who had been perfectly frank in admitting that he had no recollection of the consultation, the Court found that he had, on this occasion, fallen below the standards properly expected of him. The amount of the woman's compensation will be assessed at a further hearing.