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Lawyer investigates 'wealth of cases of alleged GP negligence'

A solicitor gathering evidence against GPs for alleged negligent prescribing of benzodiazepines says she has a 'wealth' of cases under investigation.

The news came as the Home Office announced plans to allow nurses and pharmacists to prescribe benzodiazepines and low-strength opiates under patient group directions.

Medical defence experts warned GPs not to sign up to such directions unless they were well-structured, listed side-effects fully and enabled GPs to monitor prescribing closely.

Patient group directions are written protocols signed by doctors that allow nurses and other health professionals to supply and administer specified drugs to listed groups of patients.

Caroline Moore of Sheffield-based Keeble and Hawson, the law firm acting on behalf of the claimants, said since winning an out-of-court settlement against two GPs

for negligent prescribing of benzodiazepines last year, she had received 'hundreds' of

inquiries from potential claimants.

She was 'amazed' the Government was even considering extending controlled drugs such as benzodiazepines to

patient group directions.

The Home Office consultation document, released earlier this month, proposed that benzodiazepines and low-strength opiates such as codeine should be permitted in any situation under patient group directions.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a member of the GPC prescribing sub-committee and a GP in Harrow, Middlesex, said GPs might boycott patient group directions involving benzodiazepines unless the

legal responsibility was shifted to the nurse or pharmacist.

He said: 'I am surprised at the inclusion of benzodiaze-pines because of the problems with addiction and because of cases of clinical negligence. I would like to see the legal

position clarified.'

The Medical Defence Union said GPs would ultimately be held liable because they employed the nurse and signed the protocol.

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'The issue of liability is complicated. If it's a poorly constructed patient group direction, the doctor and pharmacist responsible for it could be liable.'

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