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GPs ‘being sued by patients due to hospital waits’

GPs ‘being sued by patients due to hospital waits’

GPs are being sued by patients experiencing long waits for hospital treatment, according to the GPC UK co-chair. 

There is ‘clear evidence’ of these types of cases against referring GPs in Northern Ireland, Dr Alan Stout said, in his role as the nation’s GPC chair.

Dr Stout cited examples of patients who have experienced delays in secondary care blaming GPs for not pushing ‘hard enough’. 

GPs in Northern Ireland are not supported by a state-backed indemnity scheme, as in England and Wales, which means they have to pay ‘astronomical’ fees of up to around £10,000 a year for a full-time GP, according to Dr Stout. 

At the recent UK LMC conference, in a debate on the use of private healthcare, Dr Michael McKenna from Northern Ireland’s Eastern LMC said the waiting list for some specialties is up to nine years.

Latest figures from the NI Department of Health showed that, as of March this year, of the patients waiting for a first consultant led outpatient appointment, almost 50% were waiting more than a year. 

Dr Alan Stout told Pulse that the lack of state-backed indemnity support means there is a ‘very obvious discrepancy between GPs in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the UK’.

He said: ‘The big issue that leads out of that, with a health service that is in such difficulties, is we see the waiting lists and the recycling of patients back to GP on the waiting lists, and obviously the problems in ED and everywhere trying to discharge patients earlier and earlier. 

‘So what we’re seeing is the risk go up quite significantly for GPs and the managing of risk going up quite significantly. But yet we’re being asked to pay for it, and pay very handsomely for it.’ 

When asked about specific cases where GPs have been sued as a result of problems in secondary care, Dr Stout added: ‘We’ve had a case in my practice on exactly that, on delays for diagnosis and ultimately treatment.

‘There are definitely cases where they’re coming through to the GP and saying “this was missed or there was too much delay and it’s your fault – you didn’t push hard enough or you didn’t prioritise hard enough” and so on. There is very clear evidence of that sort of case happening.’ 

In 2019, the system was changed in England and Wales so that state-backed schemes automatically cover all GPs if they are providing NHS services. In Scotland, indemnity costs are lower, but there is no state-backed scheme. 

Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has not yet acted on the BMA’s calls to implement a similar scheme as in England and Wales.

This means that with a stretched health service, GPs are ‘carrying huge burdens of risk’ as well as the costs of covering their own indemnity, according to Dr Stout. 

On the success of these types of claims, Dr Stout said: ‘It’s not even that, it’s the time and stress around it. It is taking up an awful lot of time on what is already a flat profession. 

‘Any time you get any sort of case of complaint against your practice, that has a very significant effect on people.

‘It changes people’s behaviour moving forward in terms of levels of risk that they’re prepared to accept and to take.’ 

The BMA told Pulse it was not aware of GPs in England being sued due to delays in secondary care diagnosis or treatment.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Matt Hancock 31 May, 2023 4:46 pm

There may have been threats to sue but article doesnt mention the outcome so sounds more like scaremongering to me until we see examples out the outcomes

John Glasspool 31 May, 2023 5:51 pm

They may be being sued but the patients won’t win.

Anonymous 31 May, 2023 6:10 pm

Pulse daily mail edition

Michael Green 31 May, 2023 7:33 pm

Oh come on. This is bound to happen and bound to be successful. “You didn’t push hard enough”. “You didn’t tell me enough times and in a persuasive enough tone that I must go to hospital, so I sat at home, but it’s YOUR fault”.

David Church 31 May, 2023 10:02 pm

NHS-NI will find a significant increase in stress to hospital consultants if they do not do something about this urgently : GPs will start pushing harder and threatening sueage to hospital staff if they do not get some relief.
It is not impossible here too (in E+W).
It is not just the costs and cost-risk that is the problem, but the added burden of dealing with other people’s sueage. It could lead to GPs leaving the NHS if not dealt with immediately and stopped in it’s tracks.
It is not really the GPs’ fault anyway – it is the patients’ fault for not prioritising the NHS enough when they voted for general elections last time!! You cannot have your health service and not pay for it.

A Non 1 June, 2023 12:30 am

I’ve come to the conclusion the NHS, despite its lofty ambitions, is in many aspects unintentionally evil. Its a banal form of evil along the lines of that coined by Hannah Arendt in her writings on Nazi Germany. It starts with the electorate and the politicians they elect. A collective lie is spun that you can have universal healthcare and only pay for a fraction of what you expect. Politicians who spin this lie are voted in by an unthinking and indulged electorate. Services are promised and then not funded. Other countries healthcare staff are raided because nobody wants to pay to train enough of our own or keep the ones we burn. Responsibility is shifted from the people demanding the service to those tasked with providing it. The system doesn’t work and the people working in it shoulder the blame. The electorate blame everyone but themselves. Its all a willingly believed lie. Its evil just as it is banal. I want no part of it.

John Glasspool 1 June, 2023 7:53 am

Nine years ago today I worked my last day as a NHS GP. I left early, of course. I can see it hasn’t got any better and I have never missed it; not for a picosecond.

Some Bloke 1 June, 2023 9:28 am

sueaing for “not pushing hard enough” is very believable mentality, I see it every day. they wait a month to come to see me so they can tell that their email to whatever department was not respnded to.
and I agree with A Non, so much of NHS effect is simply evil- in my view, unintentionally and mainly arising from shifting responcibility from individuals and families to services and professionals, fostering dependency, creating this illusion that healthcare can somehow correct poor lifystile choices, “I’ve smoked enough to get a diganosis- now you sort me out Doc, or now I am large enough to have DM2- where is my free prescriptions?”. it is just fundamentally wrong to give uneducated and unthinking masses this illusion that healthcare can help them, pick them up when they need it and so on. (and the problem is- free access, charge even a tocken access fee- and watch behaviour change, just like with supermarket plastic bags). We can not. Let’s be honest at least occasionally.

Ilga Chakrabarti 1 June, 2023 9:50 am

The whole process of dealing with a complaint or threat of litigation is horrendous, regardless of it’s outcome.
The BMA and LMCs should support GPs more by insisting that patients contact the hospitals for chasing referrals, not their GP, and that hospitals develop processes to expedite an appointment if symptoms have worsened.
But above all, fix the NHS : for a start, remove massive tax breaks for Amazon UK and the likes- channel this money into the NHS.

David Oliver 2 June, 2023 10:08 am

perhaps we should put on our referral letters the time scale we aspire our patients to be seen in. If they are not it is down to the hospitals ability to triage/prioritise not ours?

Truth Finder 2 June, 2023 11:11 am

The NHS has services in name only. Things gets bounced for lame reasons. It has always been too good to be true.