Doctors voice concern after GP sued for medical advice 20 years ago advised not to appeal verdict

Hundreds of doctors have raised concerns after a GP who was sued for medical advice he gave 20-years ago was advised not to appeal the High Court judgment against him.

The case was heard in the High Court (Photo: Chris Mansfield/Getty Images)

Evie Toombes, who was born with rare neural tube defect lipomyelomeningocele won her legal case against GP Dr Philip Mitchell earlier this month.

The case argued that if Ms Toombes’ mother had been given advice to take folic acid, she would have postponed getting pregnant and therefore her daughter would not have been born. The judge ruled that Dr Mitchell was liable for damages but he will not personally be expected to pay them, and will be covered by NHS Resolution.

Dr Mitchell's solicitor said he would not be able to appeal the verdict because it stood very little chance of success. Joanna Bower, partner and Clyde & Co, said: 'It is rare in the extreme for appellate courts to interfere with a judge’s finding on the facts.

'NHS Resolution accepts the findings of the court and will be seeking to work constructively with the claimant and her legal advisers to come to a final resolution of her claim.’

Doctor-patient relationship

Grassroots GP groups have expressed concern over the verdict, arguing that it could ‘promote defensive medicine’ and affect the relationship between doctors and their patients in the future.

They say GPs have told them that they feel vulnerable to legal challenges and could make them consider early retirement - and junior doctors could be less likely to enter the profession as a result. The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) points out that no expert witnesses were given permission to be called.

A virtual 'Wall of Support' for Dr Philip Mitchell was set up by the group in conjunction with The On Call Room and NHS One Million, and it has already collected almost 500 messages from concerned medics - with many describing their disappointment and concern.

One medic posting on the wall, said: ‘As a doctor this [judgment] makes me really upset and scared for my future. We are all here with a wholehearted mission to serve our community, and to "first do no harm". Dr Phillip Mitchell - please know we are all standing with you and we see you.’

'Defensive medicine'

Another said: ‘The only clear lessons to be learnt from this case are that doctors need to practise defensive medicine. How many bright, kind and enthusiastic young people and doctors are now choosing not to pursue a career in medicine or general practice out of the fear of litigation?’

The group warned that the decision has altered the legal landscape, opening the opportunity for individuals to bring a claim for disabilities arising from possible negligence before they were born.

DAUK chair and Learn Not To Blame campaign lead Dr Jenny Vaughan said: ‘We sincerely hope that the Toombes v Mitchell ruling will not have a negative impact on the complex trust relationship that exists within every consultation which is essential for a caring and compassionate health service.

GP training

‘However, we also recognise that young people born with a disability have many challenges to overcome. We have been contacted by hundreds of doctors who have great concerns that this judgment may promote defensive medicine at a time when we are all under pressure to see more patients in less time in an increasingly unsustainable system.’

GP Survival chair Dr John Hughes, said: ‘We are concerned to see many comments from junior doctors suggesting that this judgement makes them less likely to choose GP as a career option, and from established GPs saying this has strengthened their intention to retire early, both worsening the crisis in a profession with significant workforce shortage.’

You can comment on the DAUK’s virtual Wall of Support here.

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