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£28 million compensation handed out by MDU in 4 years

£28 million compensation handed out by MDU in 4 years

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) parted with £28 million in compensation for GP claims involving meningitis between 2008 and 2012. 

Figures released by the body show the money was used to settle 17 medical negligence claims over the four-year period. Of the 17 cases, five involved out-of-hours consultations, while two were home visits. It comes after the NHS revealed it is not going to adopt a vaccine against meningitis B.

In one case, a family received £2.5 million - this was the biggest sum awarded during the four years - after a doctor working out-of-hours failed to refer their four-year-old child to hospital. The kid was later diagnosed with meningitis B, suffered a number of complications and had to have one of its limbs amputated as a result. 

According to the MDU, seven-figure sums are frequently given out in cases such as this, as youngsters will typically require specialist care for the rest of their lives.

Dr Sharmala Moodley, deputy head of claims at the MDU, said the rarity of meningitis means most GPs will only come into contact with the disease once or two times during their careers. However, a misdiagnosis - or failure to make a diagnosis - can have life-altering ramifications. 

"Failure to diagnose meningitis can have devastating consequences for patients, some of whom will suffer irreversible injuries such as brain damage, loss of limbs and organ damage," she added.

Dr Moodley stated GPs will see a lot of feverish children and adults and so identifying those with the early stages of serious infectious illnesses can be a "real challenge". The main problem with meningitis is that early symptoms are usually similar to minor viral illnesses.

Because of these challenges, not every claim turns out to be negligent. Dr Moodley pointed to the fact that 70 per cent of cases are discontinued without a payment being made.

By Chris Stevenson