The MDU was contacted several years ago by two GP members who had received a letter from a claimant's solicitors saying they had failed to inform a patient that he had Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. The claimant had found out about his condition after he asked to review the general practice records. It's unclear why the claimant chose to review his records; he may have decided he was unhappy with his medical management and chose to review the records himself, or he may have suspected his diagnosis.
The claimant noted that he had a documented history of hypermobility in a number of joints, and had been investigated for this and for shortness of breath when he was younger. The claimant's solicitors noted that both orthopaedic and cardiology clinic discharge letters to the GP had questioned whether the claimant may have had Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Both the orthopaedic and cardiology consultants had decided that the claimant's symptoms simply required monitoring and no further investigations or treatment had ever been required.
As such, no formal diagnosis had been made and the claimant had visited his GP saying that both his breathlessness and his joint pain had either resolved spontaneously or were no longer bothering him.
Furthermore, the claimant had recently been seen by an ophthalmologist about his increasing myopia. The ophthalmologist noted epicanthal folds, loose sclera and angioid streaks, and suspected Ehlers-Danlos may be the cause. The ophthalmologist also raised concerns about the possibility of lens dislocation associated with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and wrote a letter to the claimant's general practice.
A Letter of Claim was served upon our members alleging they'd failed to act on the discharge letters from the hospital consultants. It also alleged that they failed to properly examine the patient, and didn't appreciate the claimant's symptoms and refer the claimant on for appropriate investigations. The claimant's solicitors stated that this would have led to an earlier diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and earlier ophthalmological treatment could have prevented issues like lens dislocation.
The MDU sought the assistance of an independent GP expert who was supportive of the GPs, based on the minimal contact either of them had with the patient. The expert confirmed that a reasonable body of GPs wouldn't have requested that the claimant return to surgery for investigation of a condition that had only been queried by a specialist. Following expert advice from an ophthalmologist, the MDU also argued that even with earlier diagnosis, the outcome would remain unchanged.
A Letter of Response was served in answer to the allegations listed in the Letter of Claim, and the claim against our members was subsequently discontinued.
Although a significant number of MDU members have sought our assistance with queries relating to genetic testing, few of these have amounted to actual claims. This may well be in part due to the advice given by our medico-legal advisers and the actions of the members in response to this.
This is a rapidly expanding area of medicine and as screening increases, it is possible that claims related to screening may increase in future. However, it appears we are yet to see this theoretical increase. Despite the increase in assisted conception technologies, there is no apparent trend of increased claims with regard to foetal or antenatal testing.
We will continue to investigate claims brought against our members and offer advice and guidance where it's needed. We encourage you contact our medico-legal team with any questions at the earliest opportunity if there is any indication that a claim may be being pursued.