Patients are being urged to check the performance records of their GPs by the family of a man who successfully took legal action against a doctor following his death from cancer.
It comes after they discovered as the case progressed that the GP had a number of warnings and concerns recorded against his name with the General Medical Council (GMC) dating back a number of years.
Legal action was launched against the doctor, who practiced in East Yorkshire, following his patient’s death in October 2014, claiming more decisive action to fully investigate continuing kidney pains, which started 12 months before he died, would have led to earlier cancer diagnosis.
Indemnifiers on behalf of the doctor subsequently agreed to pay the family a damages settlement after the claim was made through medical negligence specialists Hudgell Solicitors.
Family discovered GP had been warned over conduct
Now, the family, who have asked not to be named, are urging others to check the records of their own GPs on the General Medical Council (GMC) website.
Warnings and concerns listed against the GP involved included being interviewed by police due to concerns over inappropriate medication being given to one of his patients.
“From the start this has not been about compensation, as nothing can bring my dad back and no amount of money can compensate for our family’s loss,” said the man’s daughter, from Anlaby, East Yorkshire.
“However, the whole process has opened our eyes to how little we as patients know with regards to the doctors we see and trust to look after us. Many won’t be aware if their GP has been found not to be following procedures and protocols, not investigating illnesses and symptoms thoroughly enough, or if their doctors have acted inappropriately.
“In my father’s case, we’ve had no admissions of fault from the GP in terms of not diagnosing his cancer earlier, but as part of the legal case we received a damages settlement, we had a letter from the practice itself saying things could have been managed better and the GP was also criticised in a GMC investigation.”
It was as investigations were conducted into his treatment as part of the legal case that the man’s family first learned of the GP’s chequered medical history. It includes three conditions of practice being placed upon him and two warnings over his conduct.
According to the GMC website, this included being interviewed by police after visiting a patient at her home address in July 2012, giving her medication and asking her not to mention that he had done so.
The GMC states the drug had previously been returned to the surgery by another patient and stored by the GP on a shelf in his room. It was not clinically appropriate for the patient he gave it to.
Medical experts as part of an investigation into the matter found his conduct to be ‘seriously below that expected of a reasonably competent General Practitioner in a number of areas’.
The GP had also been made subject to conditions from 2013 onwards which restrict him from being able to undertake consultations with female patients without a fully registered medical practitioner chaperone present, unless in an emergency situation.
A tribunal also found he had knowingly practised as a GP for two months without adequate indemnity insurance in 2015, failing to inform his GP Partners that he did not have insurance in place, leading to another warning being placed against his name.
GMC complaint found GPs actions to be ‘inadequate and inappropriate’
Following the man’s death his relatives made an official complaint to the GMC, in which independent experts said the GP ‘should have considered an immediate urgent referral for a possible suspected cancer’ in October 2013, and that his failure to do so was ‘inadequate and inappropriate’.
It was only when the man attended at a private hospital, where a specialist looked at his history and blood tests, that he was referred for an urgent CT scan.
That scan revealed he had stage four renal cancer, and that a tumour the size of a rugby ball on his kidney had spread to his spleen. He was immediately admitted to A&E but it was too late to remove the tumour, which had to be treated and reduced in size by a form of chemotherapy.
He died seven months later, and despite taking drugs for pain relief, he spent many of his final weeks and months ‘in agony’ according to his daughter.
Experts as part of the GMC investigation concluded that the GP’s failure to make an urgent referral in October 2013 had led to a five month delay in cancer diagnosis.
However, they concluded that such a failing could only be considered below the standard expected, and not ‘seriously below the standard expected of a reasonably competent GP.’
The family decided against naming the GP involved, as not to also damage the reputation of the practice he was at, who they say were supportive to their complaints.
However, it is a situation which has left them angry and frustrated, and determined to ensure other patients are fully informed.
“Taking legal action was about getting answers as to what happened, why the cancer was not spotted earlier as he was often in agony and unable to sleep, and learning lessons going forward,” the daughter added.
“The one message I want to get across to people is to check their doctor’s medical history. I know if we were looking down that GP’s file now, none of our family would be choosing to use him. Who would?
“We know that the cancer may not have been preventable, but the pain and suffering my dad went through for 12 months was. His tumour could have been spotted and removed, but he lived out much of his final year, and his last days, in agony. That was heart-breaking to see.”
Helena Wood, legal executive at Hudgell Solicitors, who represented the family in the legal case, said: “The GMC investigation into the care provided by this GP concluded that there had been a five month delay in the diagnosis of cancer and inadequate and inappropriate care, so there are certainly lessons to be learned as a result.
“The family has been determined to share details of the case as they were not aware of the availability of doctors’ records and any warnings or conditions they have placed upon them by the GMC being publicly available.
“Of course, a warning or condition placed upon a doctor does not mean they are not capable of providing a competent service.
“However, it is a service aimed at giving patients transparency with regard to the GPs or hospital consultants they see, and is an opportunity to ensure you are fully informed as a patient at all times.”
When are warnings given to doctors?
The GMC says it may issue a warning if a doctor’s behaviour or performance shows ‘a significant departure from the principles set out in guidance for doctors’.
Although warnings do not restrict a doctor’s practice, the GMC says they should be viewed as a serious response, appropriate for those concerns that fall just below the threshold for a finding of impaired fitness to practise.
The GMC says they are intended to remind the doctor that their conduct or behaviour fell significantly below the standard expected and that a repetition is likely to result in a finding of impaired fitness to practise.
Checking a GP’s registration status
Patients can check a GP’s registration status, and any warnings or concerns against their names, on the General Medical Council’s website http://www.gmc-uk.org/
To check the history, go to ‘Check a doctor’s registration status’ on the top right hand side and enter the doctor’s name into the search.
Once you have found the GP you are searching for, click on the GMC registration number on the left hand side.
Select ‘Doctor History’ from the left side of the page, which will provide access to any ‘Fitness to Practice’ details (which will show any warnings or conditions on practice), and provide details of any hearings over fitness to practice, including details and reports of any hearings and investigations.