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Clinical Negligence Solicitor Paul Sankey on the possibility of GP Negligence in light of NHS reforms

News that many GPs are having to employ locums whilst they switch from patient care to administration, preparing for NHS reforms, raises an issue which is a common complaint from patients. Patients want to see the same doctor, whether they go to their GP’s practice or to hospital appointments. However GPs practices are run as teams and a patient may see one GP on a Monday and another on Wednesday. Similarly hospital clinics are run by groups of doctors under the care of a Consultant. The fact that a patient sees the Consultant at the first appointment does not mean that they will ever see him or her again. And patients are often surprised to find out that their operation was not done by the surgeon who explained the process to them but by someone more junior.Patients far prefer to see the same doctors each time. Developing a rapport with one person is reassuring and we are all more likely to feel confident that our problem has been understood when we are dealing with the same person. However this is not the way healthcare in the NHS works. Further it does not necessarily mean that our care is any worse. However for the system to work 2 important things must happen.The first is that staff need to keep proper records. It is crucial that doctors clearly record all the key details – the patient’s history, account of symptoms, their own observations, the results of any examination and their treatment plan. The second is that junior staff must know when they are out of their depth and consult a senior when necessary. And the senior must be willing to take time to help.My colleagues and I investigate numerous cases of GP Negligence where exactly these 2 things go awry. Just to take the issue of note-taking, over the last year, for instance, I have acted on numerous cases where developing problems have been missed because no one made proper notes. I have just for instance settled a claim for a woman who died after developing pressure sores. No one properly recorded concerns about the state of her skin or the risks of developing sores. This is a common factor in these sorts of cases. And I been acting for several people whose deterioration in hospital was not noticed until they went into septic shock – one died and the other suffered a seriously disabling stroke.So a lack of continuity of care should not mean our overall care is any worse. But to work - the system relies on proper records and proper supervision. Unfortunately failures in both areas are common and give rise to avoidable injuries.