We have recently settled a claim against two GPs at Thatcham Medical Practice in Berkshire for a client who suffered a delay in diagnosis of her bowel cancer. The delay led to months of unnecessary pain and suffering.
Our client, who was 49 years old, began experiencing stomach problems in early 2014. This mainly consisted of abdominal pain but she also started to lose weight and was passing blood. She went to Thatcham Medical Practice in April 2014 where a doctor examined her but noted that it was likely that her problems were simply due to constipation. No blood tests were carried out and no abdominal examination was performed. She was advised to take Fybogel and to return if she had any further concerns.
Although our client’s bleeding stopped after a few months, she continued to suffer from constant abdominal pain. She did her best to live with this and stay positive but eventually on 26 May 2015 she booked another appointment at Thatcham Medical Practice as she could not cope with the pain.
She was seen by the first defendant GP, who, despite our client’s abdominal pain, did not perform an abdominal examination and simply advised that she needed a blood test. The test was carried out but our client did not receive the results for some time. As the pain continued to disrupt her life, she phoned her GP practice back and booked a further appointment.
A subsequent appointment took place with the second defendant GP on 15 June 2015. The GP stated that the blood test results did not reveal anything of concern and although our client complained of severe abdominal pain, the GP also failed to perform an abdominal examination. Our client was told that it was likely she had IBS and that many of her problems were due to stress, so she was advised to take part in yoga and undergo a course of mindfulness.
Unfortunately, our client continued to suffer from severe abdominal pain and as it had become so disruptive to her daily life, she decided to call the GP surgery again to seek a second opinion. She saw a different GP on 7 September 2015 and he was the first doctor to carry out an abdominal examination. During this examination he could feel that her liver was enlarged and so he sent her immediately for urgent investigations.
After undergoing further tests, our client was diagnosed with multiple liver metastases with a possible sigmoid tumour as the likely primary cancer.
Investigations were carried out as part of the clinical negligence claim, led by our specialist team, and it was alleged that there were failures by both defendant GPs to review the client’s symptoms properly and perform an abdominal examination. There was also a failure to make it clear within the medical records that an abdominal examination had not been performed to ensure that any subsequent GP carried this out. Additional expert evidence confirmed that, had either of the defendants examined our client’s abdomen, they would have felt her enlarged liver and recommended further investigations and treatment. Therefore, she would have avoided the unnecessary pain and suffering experienced during the delay in receiving her diagnosis. She had spent months convincing herself that she was imagining the pain and feeling that she was a nuisance to her GP surgery.
Both defendants denied liability on the basis that it was not negligent to have failed to perform an abdominal examination.
The first GP defendant argued that our client presented with more than one complaint and, as she did not have enough time during the appointment to carry out an abdominal examination, it was sufficient for her to advise that our client undergo a blood test. She anticipated that the patient would be reviewed by the next GP when the blood results were considered.
The second GP defendant conversely argued that it was sufficient for her to have relied on the fact that the previous GP had carried out an abdominal examination and, therefore, it was not necessary for her to have performed this.
It was clear that the GPs’ respective positions could not be maintained at the same time, yet neither defendant was prepared to negotiate a settlement. Court proceedings were therefore issued and after further negotiations, our clinical negligence team was eventually able to reach a compromise with both GP defendants who agreed to settle the claim.
This case clearly highlights the importance of carrying out a proper assessment of a patient’s symptoms and in particular to ensure that an abdominal examination is performed on any patient that presents with symptoms of abdominal pain.
We are pleased to have been able to bring this matter to a sensible resolution and achieve closure for our client.