GP liable for failure to diagnose bacterial meningitis

GP liable for failure to diagnose bacterial meningitis

In the case of Coakley v Rosie (2014) the High Court considered whether a GP had been negligent in failing to diagnose bacterial meningitis and whether this caused or materially contributed to the patient’s devastating injuries.

On the 29th December 2007, Claimant Julie Coakley, began to feel unwell with flu-like symptoms. Her condition did not improve with time and she developed various rashes.

Nine days later she consulted her GP and a diagnosis of an upper respiratory infection was made. No medication was prescribed and the Defendant GP did not check whether the Claimant’s skin blanched on applying pressure. Instead a note was incorrectly made of urticarial patches (usually caused by an allergic reaction).

Despite going home to bed the Claimant’s condition worsened and after collapsing her husband called an ambulance. It was later found that she was suffering from bacterial meningitis and despite receiving a course of antibiotics she suffered blindness, substantial loss of hearing and other significant neurological damage.

The Claimant alleged that “but for” the Defendant’s negligent failure to administer antibiotics at 5.30 pm and then immediately refer her to hospital, she would have made a full recovery or had a materially better outcome.

The Court held that when the Claimant visited the Defendant GP she showed signs of bacterial meningitis. The GP failed to perform the usual tests and that no reasonably competent GP would have diagnosed a respiratory infection.

If the Claimant had been treated with penicillin at 5.30 pm and been urgently referred to hospital the Court held that her injuries would probably have been avoided.

Consequently the Claimant succeeded in proving both a breach of duty and causative injury.

For more information about this case contact David Gazzard on 01793 615011.

Image by Andres Rueda