GPs should review procedures for meningitis, says MDU

GPs have been urged to review their procedures for managing patients with meningitis, after the MDU said it has paid out £22m since 1998 for settling claims for delays in diagnosis.

The MDU said that although meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia claims account for around 2% of cases notified by its members, they account for 15% of the payments made to settle claims. It said this is a reflection of the severe injuries that can result from a delay in diagnosis.

The MDU said payments have ranged from £7,000 to £6.8m, which was paid on behalf of a GP member in 2009. Since 1998, five further claims have been settled in excess of one million pounds.

Dr Karen Roberts, MDU medico-legal adviser, said that there is an incorrect perception among the public that any delay in diagnosing meningitis reflects GP negligence. ‘It can be possible to defend doctors whose clinical management is shown to be competent and reasonable,' she said.

Dr Roberts said there are steps that GPs can take to try to lessen their chances of missing a diagnosis. ‘These include: ensuring they exclude a diagnosis of meningitis, even if they only consider if briefly; conducting and documenting a full clinical or, if appropriate, a telephone assessment of the patient; listening to patients’ and parents’ concerns; arranging a reassessment if necessary; and ensuring patients and parents know what to do if a patient becomes more unwell in the mean time,' she said.

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