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14.09.15

Doctors face ‘significant’ upsurge of lawsuits against diabetes blunders

The number of patients suing doctors for failing to diagnose or properly manage diabetes has increased significantly over a ten-year period, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has found.

Negligence claims have risen by 28%, from 162 cases in 2003-7 to 207 cases in 2008-12 – but the vast majority did not lead to paid compensation.

A total of 92 negligence claims were settled for just over £8.2m plus legal costs of around £1.2m over the decade.

Common allegations included failings to make an initial diagnosis and failing to diagnose typical complications, like foot or leg ulcers – which can lead to patients having limbs amputated.

In one case a patient received £70,000 in compensation after several toes had to be amputated because their foot symptoms were not properly treated.

Other cases spanned medical errors and poor ongoing monitoring despite complications posing “life-threatening” risks.

One diabetic patient who suffered a gangrenous bowel leading to peritonitis and sepsis received £800,000 in compensation, the largest single pay-out by the MDU amongst the studied cases.

The MDU has helped members with over 1,215 incidents involving diabetes over the same timeframe until 2012. Apart from negligence claims, this also comprised 489 complaints, 123 coroner’s inquiries and 44 GMC investigations.

Dr Caroline Fryar, head of advisory services at the MDU, said the increase in claims is “not surprising” considering a recent announced by Diabetes UK that the number of adults living with diabetes increased by 60% over the past decade.

She said: “This does not imply a fall in medical standards, but could reflect the growing willingness of patients and their families to take action when they believe there have been failings in medical care.

“Diabetes is growing problem in the UK so it is important that doctors are aware of the signs and also how to manage the condition. GPs are at the front line in diagnosing and managing patients with diabetes and 75% of our cases involve them. Making a diagnosis may not be straightforward, especially if the ‘classic’ signs of weight loss, thirst and tiredness are not present.

“However it’s important that appropriate diagnostic tests are carried out if diabetes is suspected. It is also crucial that patients with diabetes are adequately monitored as complications can be very serious or even life-threatening.”

The MDU issued advice on 8 September for doctors to minimise the risk of delays in diagnosing and managing the disease.

This included recording how the patient will be managed and any follow up plans, ensuring patients know what to do if symptoms persist, considering having a computerised warning system to flag patients, and being families with NICE and SIGN guidelines.

Doctors were also advised to ensure patients with diabetes received regular monitoring and screening and were contacted if they failed to attend review appointments.

In order to avoid repeated allegations, the MDU also issued advice to analyse incidents of delays and medication errors in order to identify possible improvements, as well as apologising to patients if anything goes wrong.

(Top image c. Alexskopje)

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