Compensation if a doctor neglects patient drug history

When commencing treatment, doctors should compile a full history of the medication their patient is taking, or has taken.

GP negligence claims frequently arise as a result of a failure to take a full medical history.

There are two very good reasons for taking a drug history:

  • Prescription errors can arise when medication prescribed by the doctor conflicts with medication which the patient is already taking. Some medicines cannot be administered in conjunction with certain other medicines without causing side effects or endangering the patient.
  • The patient may already be taking an immunosuppressive drug. This disables or weakens the body's natural defences against infection. Such a patient may require more aggressive than normal treatment to attend to the ailment which has caused him or her to seek medical attention.

Failure by a doctor  to obtain full information about a patient's current drug regime can have very serious consequences for the patient and may result in a clinical negligence claim.

The serious consequences of failing to take a medical history

The Medical Protection Society highlighted a case in which a 30 year old male ('the patient') had been prescribed immunosuppressive medication to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Whilst taking this medication, the patient developed an itchy rash and experienced a general lack of energy.

This caused the patient to attend the Accident & Emergency department of his local hospital. He was examined by a junior doctor and advised that he was suffering from chickenpox. 

The doctor did not ask the patient if he was currently taking medication. He was therefore unaware that the patient was taking immunosuppressive medication. He sent the patient home and advised him to take paracetamol and treat the itch with calamine lotion. 

The patient continued to feel unwell. He telephoned the out-of-hours GP service the next day and spoke to a GP over the telephone. The GP did not ask the patient if he was currently taking medication. Having noted that the patient had been to hospital, the GP told him to continue to self-adminster paracetamol and apply calamine lotion. 

As the patient remained unwell, he saw his own GP on the following day. The patient's medical records were available to the GP, but he did not consult them. The GP noted that the patient had been examined by a doctor at the hospital.

He advised the patient to continue to take paracetamol and apply calamine lotion. 

The patient's condition worsened. He collapsed the next day and was taken to hospital, where he was treated for multiple organ failure.

Chickenpox is not normally a fatal disease in healthy adults. A person's immune system is normally able to successfully combat the disease. In this case, however. the patient's immune system had been seriously weakened by the immunosuppressive medication he was taking.

Consequently, it was unable to protect his vital organs from the effects of the disease.

All three doctors whom the patient consulted were negligent. Each of them ought to have ascertained whether the patient was currently taking any medication. Had any one of them done so, the weakness of the patient's immune system would have identified and the patient given appropriate treatment.

Claiming compensation for medical history-related negligence

You may be able to claim compensation if you have received inadequate or incorrect treatment because of a doctor's failure to ascertain if you were already taking medication for any condition or ailment.

Quittance's panel of solicitors can guide you through the claims process and answer any questions you may have before you decide whether or not to make a claim. 

Call us on 0800 612 7456 or arrange a call back at a time that suits you to discuss your options in more detail.