Doctors advised by MDU on how to support patients suffering from a phobia

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) is advising doctors on how they can assist patients who are suffering from a phobia.

According to NHS Direct, there are an estimated 10 million people in the UK suffering from a phobia and in its latest guidance published in its journal, the MDU shares recommendations on how doctors can help patients who have aerophobia (a fear of flying), claustrophobia or a needle phobia.

This guidance is in response to cases whereby doctors have received a complaint following an allegation of a lack of empathy when consulting with patients suffering from a phobia and that the patient is 'silly' for being scared or has wasted NHS money.

Dr Ellie Mein, MDU medico-legal adviser, said:

'GPs are often faced with requests for benzodiazepines when patients have anxiety caused by flying. However, it is important to consider the possible side effects of such drugs, including the possibility that the patient may not be able to react appropriately to save themselves should an emergency occur, and that a sedated patient may move less during the flight, which could put them at increased risk of a venous thromboembolism.

'Meanwhile, there are approximately two million MRI scans worldwide that are not performed every year due to patients refusing to be scanned or terminating the scan early due to claustrophobia. However, there are many resources online that can help prepare patients on what to expect during a scan including step by step explanations and videos of MRIs being performed.

'Additionally, medico-legal queries can also arise when doctors are faced with patients who have severe needle phobia but refuse necessary investigations or treatment due to their fear.

'Doctors are advised to consider trying to identify the phobia and its potential impact on a patient’s care early on in order to avoid last minute, rushed interventions and to use a multidisciplinary approach by including senior input from psychiatry as necessary.'

Read the latest edition of the MDU journal here.

This page was correct at publication on 03/12/2019. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.