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Remote GP consultations in a post-COVID world: a potential for medical negligence?

Previously, a face-to-face consultation with your GP was the standard way to discuss your medical concerns with a doctor. An in-person consultation meant that your GP could conduct a full examination of your presenting condition and provide advice or diagnosis based on their findings. However, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the use of telephone and video consultations become the normal way to see your GP.

It is reported that, prior to the pandemic, 80% of GP consultations were conducted in person.  This is compared to the start of the pandemic, when the number of in-person consultations dropped to just 30%. As recently as June 2021, only 56% of patients were offered a face-to-face appointment, despite the easing of lockdowns and new NHS guidance to offer physical appointments.  Remote consultations have not only been necessary to reduce the transmission of infection; they are also recognised as an easier way to consult a medical professional about your health concerns without having to take time out of your day to visit a practice in person.

While the use of remote consultations has its benefits, there is a growing concern that this trend may result in an increased number of patients who are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all due to the lack of a physical examination. A remote consultation may be suitable for many people, but it will certainly not be appropriate for every patient and for every health condition. A number of charities and GPs are concerned that if remote consultations become standard, doctors may miss the red flags for illness, such as cancer, which they would usually have been able to identify had they seen the patient in person. Furthermore, patients with complex health conditions are not always receiving the same level of care via remote consultations.

What constitutes a successful claim against a GP?

To establish a claim for medical negligence you must prove with the support of independent expert evidence:

  1. Breach of duty- whether the care you received from your GP was below a reasonable standard?

AND

  1. Causation – what injuries have been caused or contributed to by the breach of duty?

In relation to breach of duty the test is not whether your GP provided the highest standard of care, but whether they provided a reasonable standard of care. The strict legal test is whether the care provided fell below the standard to be expected of a reasonably competent and skilful specialist in the particular field in which the treatment was given (in this case, general practice). Even if a number of clinicians are of the view that a particular medical practice is substandard, if there is another reasonable body of medical opinion in the same field (even a minority) who would consider that the treatment given was reasonable, then the claim will fail.

The link between remote-consultations and medical negligence:

It remains to be seen whether the increased use of remote-GP appointments over face-to-face appointments will lead to a rise in medical negligence claims. There is certainly a discussion to be had about the potential for GPs to breach their duty of care to their patients by failing to offer face-to-face appointments, and patients who miss out on essential treatment as a result. The issue will certainly continue to be closely observed by medical negligence professionals.

If you think that you might have a claim for medical negligence, please contact our team and we will be pleased to help.

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