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Head Injury And Stroke Symptoms Not Diagnosed For Three Days

Patient sitting on a hospital bed
8th September 2015

A female claimant who received a head injury not thought serious enough to be referred to a hospital later suffered a stroke and has been left with a permanent disability.

The claimant’s husband, who telephoned their GP practice after his wife slipped in the shower at home and hurt her head, was told to  contact the out-of-hours service. In his conversation with the practice, he was told the duty doctor was in the surgery at the time and the receptionist made a note that the claimant had a "cramp in neck, cold/hard to breathe, and pins and needles in arm.”

An emergency doctor who arrived later that same evening diagnosed a minor neck injury. The claimant was advised to see her GP the following morning, who confirmed the same diagnosis.

However, after two days, the claimant was still feeling unwell and was experiencing further pain. Finally referred to hospital, the claimant underwent a CT scan, which confirmed that the claimant had suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage – a type of stroke caused by bleeding on the surface of the brain. During the course of the operation performed the next day, the claimant suffered a further small stroke, which left her substantially disabled.

Symptoms not present

The court considered the key symptoms for an immediate hospital referral - a severe throbbing headache and vomiting - which were not present when the initial call was made to the surgery nor when the emergency doctor saw the claimant later in the evening. The judge rejected the claimant’s primary case that the husband had informed the GP that his wife had suffered the tell-tale symptoms necessary for immediate referral to hospital.

At the Court of Appeal, the claimant argued that the GP should have arranged a more prompt referral to hospital, which would have allowed the CT scan, diagnosis and operation to take place earlier. As a result, the claimant would not have endured three days of anxiety and very unpleasant symptoms, despite suffering the stroke that caused the same permanent disability.

On the above basis, and despite sympathy for the claimant’s suffering, the court accepted that the damages awarded would be modest and also completely disproportionate to the costs of the litigation.