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The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has meant that in many instances, GP surgeries may conduct consultations with patients remotely – through phone calls, facetime or other methods rather than seeing individuals face to face. The principal behind this is to minimise the potential for any infection and spreading of the virus. However, concerns have been raised about the mounting potential for misdiagnosis and associated misdiagnosis claims.
Few would dispute the rationale behind minimising the amount of face to face appointments held by GP surgeries during the height of the pandemic. Minimising the risk to vital staff as well as reducing the scope for spreading infection by ensuring people are not waiting in communal areas etc. However, as infection rates continue to fall across the country, there has been concern regarding many surgeries still only enabling patients to have a remote based appointment. This has also meant in some instances, those most vulnerable patients such as the elderly, may not have access to the relevant technology required by their individual surgery and may be put off from making an initial appointment owing to this fact. In these instances this may contribute to a delayed diagnosis claim.
Additionally, questions have been raised as to the extent to which all appointments can be conducted remotely. Surgeries have been trying to prioritise the most urgent appointments by using telephone or remote appointments to triage the most urgent cases and those requiring face to face appointments. However, this is open to interpretation and relies on the correct information being given at the first review and the medical practice – often the GP receptionists, correctly prioritising those in most need. In some instances, this may result in those requiring additional medical attention being diagnosed incorrectly and may result in misdiagnosis compensation claims as a result. Individuals presenting with certain symptoms may also be prescribed incorrect medication without requests for further medical reviews – for example individuals may be given antibiotics for something that actually needs further medical review and examinations. In instances where this occurs and the patient suffers adversely as a result, it may be possible for them to pursue a claim for misdiagnosis as a result.
There also appears to be a significant variation in the way that GP surgeries are conducting appointments, with many choosing to predominately offer remote virtual appointments with their patients and allowing very few face to face appointments. However, some surgeries are using the remote system to prioritise and as an initial screen before seeing many patients in a face to face appointment. It is unknown as to what impact the variation will have on the amount of medical misdiagnosis claims as a result.
Figures published in the Daily Mail indicate that 55 % of appointments are currently being held face to face, which is substantially lower than that prior to the coronavirus pandemic and that despite falling numbers of COVID cases across the country, NHS England has made no firm plans to change the current guidance to GP practices in regards to triaging patients remotely. However, medical negligence solicitors, Blackwater Law hope that in the coming weeks, additional guidance is provided to minimise any potential inconsistencies across GP surgeries and to improve patient outcomes as a whole.