Clinical Negligence Case Law for Medical Practitioners

Clinical Negligence Law for DoctorsCases on Doctors’ Negligence

Doctors Defence Service will summarise court decisions in clinical negligence cases on this page. See our Psychiatric Negligence case digests, GP Negligence cases, and our Obstetrics Negligence cases digested below. DDS will add certain other cases as judgments are decided by the courts.

 

 Failure to Identify Cancer in Slide Containing Biopsy 
Muller v King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust [2017] EWHC 128 (QB)  – the court confirmed the correct legal test to identify negligence where a consultant histopathologist failed to identify early signs of malignancy in a biopsy slide containing human tissue. Damages were awarded. (February 2017)
General Practitioner (GP) Negligence Cases
McCabe v Hall [2015] EWHC 260 (QB) – The Claimant succeeded in establishing liability in negligence against a GP (the third defendant GP in the case) in relation to failure to act on signs and symptoms that warranted urgent referral to hospital. The claimant suffered a stroke as a consequence of undiagnosed infective endocarditis. (February 2015)
Doy v Dr Gunn [2011] EWHC 3344 (QB) – [see full law report] The GP was not negligent in not referring a baby to hospital, where the baby was not showing any signs of meningitis. The baby was later admitted to hospital and was found to have meningitis. The child suffered a disability as a consequence of the illness. The mother sued the GP. Held: GP was not negligent. The evidence did not disclose at the time signs and symptoms that would lead a competent GP to refer the baby to hospital. No breach of duty of care. The Claimant subsequently appealed to the Court of Appeal (CA): Doy v Gunn [2013] EWCA . The first instance decision on the High Court, that the GP had not been negligent, was upheld by the CA. (May 2013)
Audrey Burnett v Dr Lynch [2012] EWCA Civ 347 – [see full law report] GP appealed, to the Court of Appeal (CA), a judgment of a County Court Judge (HHJ Gosnell) on grounds of defective reasoning and wrong decision. The judge had found that the GP negligently failed to diagnose a breast lump (which turned out to be cancer). The GP had instead believed that it was a blocked milk duct. Held by CA: Judge had correctly assessed both side’s cases and made a proper determination on the issues. A judge did not have to deal with every point raised by Counsel. The case turned wholly on oral evidence. While the doctor’s recollection was truthful, that did not mean that it was accurate, and the claimant’s recollection of events was to be preferred. [DDS Commentary: As always, a good note of a clinical examination and doctor’s reasoning may assist a doctor who is sued to show that they are accurate in their recollection.] (March 2012)
Dr Maguire v North West Strategic Health Authority [2012] EWHC 3272 (QB) [see full law report] A GP (Dr Maguire) sought to prove that a hospital had been negligent for providing unsuitable discharge advice to parents of a two year old child who had sustained a head injury, and for the hospital’s failure to arrange an early follow up appointment in the out patients department to check on the child’s health. The child later contracted meningitis and as a consequence suffered brain damage, contributed to by an undiagnosed cerebral-spinal fluid (CSF) leak. The child visited the GP with his concerned parents but the GP did not properly explore the possibility that a nasal discharge was CSF. Prompt referral to hospital would have been indicated if a CSF leak had been identified. The GP sought a contribution or indemnity from the hospital to cover the settlement that had been made on his behalf by his insurers, asserting that he had not been negligent. HELD: The court held that the hospital had not been negligent. The child’s claim had previously been settled by Dr Maguire and another doctor, for several million pounds in damages and costs, without admission of liability.  (November 2012)
Psychiatric Negligence Cases
Rabone and Anor (Appellants) v Pennine Care Foundation Trust (Respondent) [2012] UKSC 2 [see full law report] – Informal patient allowed to go home in circumstances that no consultant psychiatrist should have allowed – patient committed suicide – Article 2 claim, separate from other negligence claim that had settled: Award of damages (“just satisfaction”) in the sum of £5,000 for the parents of the deceased. Article 2, both operational and general obligation owed to informal patients. When assessing whether there is a risk of suicide, the relevant mental health professional should determine whether there is a real and immediate risk of the patient committing suicide, which is present and continuing, and more than remote and fanciful.  The same degree of protection should be afforded to informal patients as that afforded to detained patients – detained under the Mental Health Act. [Inquests that examine the deaths of patients with mental health difficulties, where the deceased had been in a healthcare setting (or should have been in a healthcare setting), will now adopt an approach similar to that applied where a patient has been detained, to identify whether there has been a breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights – which requires States to take procedural and other steps to protect life. Doctors are now much more likely to have to answer more detailed questions in both civil proceedings and at inquests, to demonstrate that that took all reasonable steps in the circumstances to protect life. A consequence of this case is that doctors may now become much more cautious about allowing a patient to have home leave. Patients may well find themselves having longer periods in psychiatric hosiptals, while the clinicians make their best judgement as to whether it is safe to allow a patient to have home leave, or to leave the hospital for periods of time without an excort. The Rabone case may also lead to a greater use of the formal powers to detain, where a patient seeks to leave the care facility. Local and national protcols will necessarily have to change as a consequence of this court judgement.] (February 2012)
Obstetrics / Maternity Negligence Cases
Ludwig (by her mother) v (1) Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust (2) Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust [2012] EWHC 96 (QB) – negligence of maternity and obstetrics staff – no causal link established. Cause of disability could be any unidentified pathogen. Even if the established errors (lost swab, results not passed to an obstetrician) had not been made, the care would have been the same. (February 2012)
Spencer v NHS North West [2012] EWHC 2142 (QB) [see full law report]- A hospital was found not to have been negligent in not diagnosing that a newborn baby was infected with  Group B haemolytic streptococcus, which went on to cause permanent brain damage (because it caused meningitis). (July 2012)
Surgeons Clinical Negligence Cases

David John Saunders v Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust [2018] EWHC 343 (QB) No negligence found in a case where blood supply to the bowl failed some five days post-op, following surgery for the reversal of an ileostomy. (23 February 2018)

Silverstone v Mortensen and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust [2012] – no negligence in abdominal surgery, where the patient died. (October 2010)

Johnson v Fourie [2011] EWHC 1062 (QB) – Significant disfigurement and disablement caused by negligent cosmetic surgery. The negligent surgeon admitted the nature of the injuries his patient had sustained. The court awarded damages. General damages (for pain, suffering and loss of amenity) were awarded in the sum of £80,000. Special damages (including loss of past and future earnings) were awarded in the sum of approximately six million pounds. The full schedule of the award is as follows (May 2011):

Head of Damage/Loss Sum Awarded
Pain Suffering and Loss of Amenity (SLA) £80,000
Interest on PSLA £6,842.74
Total PSLA (including Interest) £86,842.74
   
Past Special Damages  
Miscellaneous Losses £17,160
Lost  ofEarnings £1,733,482
Sub-Total £1,750,642
Interest on Miscellaneous Losses @17.3% £2,968.18
Interest on Lost Earnings £149,880.00
Total Interest £152,848.18
Total Past Losses (including Interest) £1,903,490.18
   
Future Special Damages  
Miscellaneous £27,500
Lost Earnings £4,173,052
Total Future Losses £4,200,552
   
Grand Total of Damages Award £6,190,884.92

Hussain v King Edward VII Hospital [2012] 3441 (QB) – Post-surgery a patient suffered from shoulder pain, alleged to have been caused by mishandling of the patient during surgery. Held: tendonitis and impingement syndrome in the patient’s shoulder was not caused by negligent handling of the patient. (November 2012)
Paediatrician Clinical Negligence Cases
Woodward v Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust [2012] 2167 (QB) [see full law report]- An (admitted) failure to diagnose a tumour within the pituitary gland of a child (which caused acromegalic gigantism) led to an assessment of damages in the sum of £120,000  (2012)

For further information on our services relating to clinical negligence, see our Clinical Negligence page

To discuss any clinical negligence matter with the lawyers at Doctors Defence Service, contact us on: 0800 10 88 739 
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Doctors Defence Service (DDS) assists medical doctors who are registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) in the United Kingdom (UK) and also those doctors from abroad who wish to register and practise as doctors in the UK. Doctors Defence Service also assists doctors in relation to all other legal issues arising from daily practice and operating businesses in the clinical arena. DDS represents doctors in FTP and IOP GMC proceedings, at inquests, in general civil cases, in commercial and contract law, in revalidation matters, and employment law. Doctors Defence Service can be contacted on 0800 10 88 739. We have main offices in London, Manchester, and Telford. We cover most other UK regions too.