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GPs should be sued for ‘late’ dementia diagnoses, says professor

A leading academic has called for patients to sue GPs for failing to diagnose dementia, arguing that ‘the sooner someone sues a GP… the better’.

Professor June Andrews, director of the Dementia Services Development Centre at the University of Stirling, made the comments in the Letters section of the London Review of Books, in which she said the ‘sooner someone sues a GP for failure to diagnose as early as possible, the better’.

Sha also dismissed GP critics’ concerns about the £55 ‘cash for diagnosis’ scheme introduced by NHS England last October in a bid to boost dementia diagnosis rates.

Professor Andrews was responding to an article from GP Dr Gavin Francis, in which he explains his motivations for signing an open letter that called for the £55 per diagnosis scheme to be withdrawn.

In her response, Professor Andrews wrote: ‘Gavin Francis supports GPs who don’t diagnose dementia because they think there’s no point. It is outrageous that publicly funded professionals could withhold important information about my health.

‘It’s all very well being professionally insulted by the Government’s offer of £50. The sooner someone sues a GP for failure to diagnose as early as possible, the better.’

Professor Andrews said that ‘significant financial and emotional damage and unnecessary disability can be avoided’ from early diagnosis, but pointed out wild variations in diagnosis rates, from 20% in London to 75% in Belfast.

She added: ‘Francis says “presumably” the Government thought low diagnosis was evidence of poor care. If anything, it is evidence of no care at all. But that will be for the lawyers to prove.’

Professor Andrews is described on the University of Stirling website as ‘a recognised leader in the world wide movement to improve services for people with dementia and their carers’ who has won international awards and previously set up and directed the Centre for Change and Innovation in the Scottish Executive Health Department.

According to the website entry, the Dementia Services Development Centre she now directs was set up to ‘devise and implement interventions to drive change in clinician behaviour and health and social care organisations in order to achieve the ambitions of national dementia strategies in the UK and beyond’.

Readers' comments (94)

  • It's extremely disheartening to hear a fellow professional actually encouraging patients to sue colleagues
    It's just unacceptable.
    There is no good diagnostic test available, even someone with barn door symptoms. A diagnosis of Dementia still has stigma associated with it , lots of legal minefields etc, property welfare rights, families bickering and arguing etc etc,lasting power of attorney , corrupts solicitors, lack of carers in the community.
    Rather then blame Gps who frankly are not in a position to diagnoses dementia due to lack of good tests, perhaps patients and families should be encouraged to self refer to all those memory clinics and they can jump through the hoops to get their relative seen.

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  • Gutted !!, why ? That a nurse should turn against her colleagues in general practice. That an academic has allowed her ivory towers to encroach upon simple reasoning and observation of practice. I am ashamed of her findings and comments, as I am sure are many of my fellow practice nurses and ANPs. My apologies for this trite unsubstantiated, passed off as academic diatribe!

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  • Very unhelpful article.
    Methinks the lady doth protest too much.
    Probably regrets some/all of it.

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  • I have to admit I applaud the effort and time June has made to respond about these issues. The only other person that bothers is Una.

    it seems more research is needed to explain the variation and whether or not anything should be done about it - there are wider implications that need to be explored. I agree that not being bothered is bad practice but why are they not bothered - do they think that it will not do their patients any good - are you really sure they are just bad GPs?

    encouraging legal action will be counter productive - there is already a complaints process in place - so proper protocol should be explored first i.e. local grievance policy.

    it's like saying your not happy with your boiler I will get a lawyer to sue the fitter rather than using local complaints procedure to rectify the problem. All this will do is open the door to other groups who will say 'time to sue GP if they don't diagnose diabetes, asthma etc'. At this point all goodwill from GPs will go and even the NHS die hards will exit.

    my understanding is that lawyers want to move to more mediation and dispute resolution than ending up in court and you may run the risk of an innocent GP being sued winning and coming after you.

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  • June - you raise some valid points about resources that can be accessed by achieving a diagnosis. However, encouragement of patients to sue their GP is quite frankly bizarre and unprofessional. I would highly recommend a workshop delivered by the MPS which highlights how damaging we can be with our dialogue about our colleagues and how this can lead to complaints. If you feel passionate about something and feel GPs are not doing a good job - engage with them and educate them if that's appropriate. You certainly know how to win friends and influence people.....

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  • June Andrews makes several unsubstantiated or inflammatory statements in a letter and seems surprised that GPs react negatively to them. e.g.
    "Significant financial and emotional damage, and unnecessary disability can be avoided if you are told what’s wrong at the earliest opportunity and then take action to slow the progress of the disease."

    In the case of dementia, harm could be caused by the trauma of living with a diagnosis for longer, or by being given a putative diagnosis of dementia which turns out not to be the case. There is little that could be done to slow the disease progress.

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  • This academic makes a inflammatory comment in a mass media which could cause serious consequences, not host for the GP but patient/family who wrongly focus their energy on law suits instead of focusing on their life.

    And her answer?

    It was in a magazine no one reads so it's OK.

    I'm sorry but you seriously need to look yourself in the mirror and do something about your over inflated ego

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  • Oooh what a juicy headline this one....print it and watch the comments fly!
    Anyone ever get the feeling PULSE is a wind up arm of the Daily Mucus?

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  • can we start with an academic that has lst touch with reality?

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  • Offensive, thoughtless and ill-informed. She obviously is someone who highly values her own opinion. There is little real evidence of more than a fleeting benefit from dementia drugs which are hugely expensive. Early diagnosis mainly leaves the elderly labelled and frightened.

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