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.