A 59 -year -old woman consulted a GP as a new patient. She alleged that she complained to him that a jelly-like blackcurrant-coloured 'curtain' was obscuring her vision on the nasal aspect of her right visual field. The GP examined her and diagnosed vitreous opacities which he decided to manage conservatively in the hope that they would become less noticeable with time. He advised the patient to visit him again in two weeks' time.
This she did, and the practitioner was concerned to find she now had a partial loss of vision in the eye. He immediately referred her to the local hospital, where she was admitted and underwent an operation for a detached retina. The surgery was not successful and she had several other operations in an attempt to save the vision. These were also unsuccessful and the patient was subsequently only able to see hand movements with the right eye.
The patient's solicitor issued a county court summons, alleging that the GP failed to diagnose the detached retina at the first consultation. It alleged that had she been treated promptly, she would have required less surgery, and her sight would have been saved.
The MDU sought the advice of a GP who advised: 'there can be no doubt that the GP missed the retinal detachment at the first consultation which a reasonably competent GP should have diagnosed.'
A consultant ophthalmic surgeon was asked his opinion and said that 'the delay in the diagnosis made the problems of surgical reattachment more difficult... early diagnosis would have made not only the chances of reattachment more likely, but also consequently more likely the restoration of good vision to the eye. 'The patient's expert ophthalmologist advised: 'Had the correct diagnosis been made (at the first consultation) there is every possibility that the sight in the right eye could have been saved by early surgery.'
Given the expert opinion, it was felt the claim would be extremely difficult to defend. After negotiation the patient accepted an out-of-court settlement, which reflected the fact that she subsequently developed a cataract in the left eye and there was a risk of retinal detachment during subsequent cataract extraction.
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