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Failure To Diagnose Drug User’s Brain Tumour “To Be Reasonably Expected” Says Judge

Hospital MRI scan
24th August 2015

A court has dismissed a claim by a patient for a six month delay in the diagnosis and treatment of a brain tumour by A&E doctors who failed to recognise his condition and carry out a CT scan.

The claimant was worried that he was having a stroke and was initially seen by a hospital GP who concluded that the symptoms were the result of anxiety or cannabis use. Returning the next day with symptoms of dizziness, blurred vision and loss of arm control, the claimant was re-admitted and seen by the hospital stroke team. Once again, it was concluded that the patient was not having a stroke and was then referred on to A&E.

The A&E doctor also concluded that the symptoms were the result of long term cannabis use. Following a deterioration in symptoms, six months later the claimant was finally referred for a CT scan, which showed the presence of an aggressive brain tumour. 

Patient’s symptoms were confusing

At court, the claimant accepted that the A&E doctor had not been negligent in failing to diagnose the tumour but argued that there had been negligence in failing to refer him to a specialist stroke unit where he could have received a CT scan.

However, the judge disagreed, saying that the A&E doctor was “one part in a chain decision-making process” and could not be criticised for relying on the prior opinions of a GP and the specialist stroke team. In addition, the patient’s symptoms were confusing, possibly masked by cannabis use. The judge considered that the standard of care was to be “reasonably expected” of an A&E doctor working in a pressurised environment without time to conduct research or ready access to expert opinion.

In conclusion, the judge found the opinions of the hospital GP and the stroke team had “not been obviously wrong” and that the doctor working in the A&E department had been entitled “not to rule out that drugs were the cause” of the claimant’s symptoms.