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Six-figure settlement for man who suffered life-changing injuries after delay in diagnosis of Giant Cell Arteritis

A man has settled a medical negligence claim against two former GPs following an alleged failure to identify classic symptoms of Giant Cell Arteritis and refer him for investigation and treatment.

Posted on 27 April 2023

Following the delay, the patient, who we have called Joe, is severely sight impaired and is registered blind.

Joe had developed a severe frontal headache, blocked ears and pain in his jaw. He was also having difficulty with his balance and the top of his head was sore to touch. He couldn’t get an appointment with his usual GP that day, so he attended an out-of-hours GP service, accompanied by his wife and told the doctor about his symptoms. He was diagnosed with an inner ear infection and advised to make an appointment with his usual GP.

Joe saw his GP a few days later and started to explain his symptoms, but his GP said they had read the notes of the other doctor and confirmed the diagnosis of an inner ear infection. Joe’s wife told the GP that she thought Joe may have suffered a stroke because his speech was slurred. The GP conducted a reflex test and said that Joe had not suffered from a stroke. Joe was prescribed medication for an ear infection and was told to “give it time.” Joe’s symptoms did not improve, so he followed up with his GP on two more occasions and both times was advised to “give it more time.”

A few days after the last appointment (and five weeks after the first appointment), Joe woke up unable to see. His wife took him to the GP, leading Joe into the doctor’s surgery. The GP advised them to make an appointment with his optician to see if he needed new glasses. The optician referred Joe immediately to the Western Eye Hospital where he was examined. He was taken to the Royal Free Hospital where a scan was carried out which led to a diagnosis of Giant Cell Arteritis. However, by this time Joe had permanently lost his sight; there was nothing that could be done to restore it.

Joe and his wife instructed Sally-Jean Nicholes, an extremely experienced solicitor in Leigh Day's medical negligence department, to bring a claim against his two GPs.

Sally-Jean obtained medical evidence from a GP expert that the symptoms Joe had described to the GP, such as frontal headache, jaw pain and scalp tenderness, should have prompted the GP to refer him for investigation.

Sally-Jean instructed a Neuro-Ophthalmologist and Rheumatologist who advised that if J had been referred even as late as a few days before he lost his sight, there would have been time to diagnose and treat him and he would not have become blind.

Court proceedings were issued, and both GPs denied liability. Further evidence was obtained, including obtaining a report from an Occupational Therapist to advise about Joe’s needs.

The loss of his sight was devastating for Joe: prior to his injury, he had been semi-retired, working part-time as a driver. He also took an active part in caring for his grandchildren and enjoyed attending matches to watch his football team, QPR.

An offer of settlement was made by the Defendants in a six-figure sum which Joe wanted to accept and put this aspect of what happened behind him. The damages awarded will help Joe to continue adapting to his circumstances and be able to enjoy life again.

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