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Compensation for meningitis claims increasing

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    As high level of compensation continue to be paid out by GPs for meningitis claims what needs to be done to reduce cases of delayed diagnosis of meningitis?

    By Kerstin Kubiak

The Medical Defence Union (MDU), one of the leading defence organisations of GPs in the UK, reported recently that they had paid out over £28 million in compensation for medical negligence claims involving meningitis or meningococcal disease between 2008 and 2012.  Such claims usually involve there being a delay in meningitis being diagnosed leading to the patient suffering injury as a result that would otherwise have been avoided.

Further information reported by the MDU confirmed that this compensation total related to only 17 medical negligence claims over this period, which clearly highlights that the effects of delayed diagnosis of meningitis can be devastating and lead to significant injury and care needs, and therefore often the claims made will be well in excess of £1million each.  While 17 claims may not seem a high number of claims, when the injuries suffered are so serious, it is clear that even 1 claim is too many.

Previous statistics:

These statistics are not the first statistics published by the MDU in relation to compensation for meningitis claims.  In 2000 the MDU reported that they were notified of one case of misdiagnosis of meningitis every week, and that meningitis claims were the single biggest cost they faced.

In 2010 the MDU reported that they had paid out over £22 million in compensation for meningitis claims since 1998, and this sum represented 15% of the total compensation they had paid for medical negligence claims.

At that time the MDU warned that GPs needed to review their procedures for treating patients with suspected meningitis.  In 2010 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published new guidelines relating to the management of meningitis in children and the MDU highlighted the importance of GPs following these guidelines to try and reduce incidences of misdiagnosis of meningitis.

The recent statistics suggest that the amount of compensation being paid out by GPs is not reducing.  The MDU reported that it was “notoriously difficult to diagnose meningitis” as the signs and symptoms can also relate to many other, less serious conditions, which is generally accepted.  The fact is however that millions of pounds in compensation for meningitis claims are still being paid out because it is admitted in many cases that a GP has negligently failed to diagnose the condition or refer for further investigations.  To admit that the failings amount to medical negligence means the treatment provided by the GP fell below an acceptable standard.  It appears that further training and awareness is still therefore required.

Our experience:

The Solicitors in the Clinical Negligence Team are often approached for legal advice by many patients, both adults and children, who have suffered serious and life-changing injuries as a result of delayed diagnosis of meningitis.  It is quite often that we hear that a patient’s symptoms were attributed to another condition, and meningitis was not even considered until it was too late as their condition deteriorated very quickly.

In April 2013 we wrote about undiagnosed meningitis and that meningitis charities were campaigning for increased awareness and education about meningitis, with the UK being highlighted as one of the top 3 meningitis hotspots in Europe.  The awareness campaign was aimed at the public but the recent statistics published by the MDU show that some GPs also still need greater awareness and education as there continues to be cases involving missed or delayed diagnosis of meningitis causing patients to suffer serious injuries and significant amounts of compensation are being paid out accordingly.

If you have concern about a diagnosis of meningitis and whether this was delayed or missed by your Doctor please contact the Clinical negligence Team who will provide specialist advice based on many years experience of meningitis claims.

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