Weekend GPs won’t stop the most serious medical negligence

Posted on: June 23rd, 2015

The government announced a £10 million program to turn around GP practices and in effect provide a full 7 day NHS at primary level. This is fantastic news for anyone seeking medical care at a time when currently primary care services are basically “off” during the weekend. Primary care, being that which we seek initially from a general practitioner, is often the first point of call for many seeking medical assistance. Cutting delays in accessing primary care can short cut a diagnosis allowing for an alleviation of symptoms and suffering. Also the time taken to access more specialist care could be shortened allowing for treatment sooner for what could be more serious conditions.

What the proposal doesn’t tackle are the problems suffered by many who are accessing treatment on weekends from NHS Trusts. If you need urgent medical attention at any time, it’s usually serious, and it will be something that most would deem beyond the action of a general practitioner. What do most do, go to A&E, why, because it’s a serious problem. The 7 days GP service might alleviate the queues at the triage desk, but that is not where the problem lies.

If you have a serious problem, and you do get through the triage process at A&E, you most likely be admitted to a medical assessment ward. It is in this second stage of the “Emergency Treatment” process that you will be review and hopefully you will be admitted to the correct ward or department who can properly treat your condition. These are the departments who often don’t have the correct staff available on weekends. These are the departments that don’t have their scanners or laboratories available, or the Consultants on duty to make the decisions needed to get the treatment that is so vital to recovery.

We have heard the stories about those who attend A&E with problems which could easily be dealt with by a general practitioner. The “New Deal” proposals by the government will hopefully solve this issue in the next few years if implemented. However, until we have a 7 day NHS in the specialist stages of treatment, numerous patients will be left waiting for Monday mornings when their conditions can be diagnosed and treated.

The law does not recognise that treatment will not be given on weekend. The standard provided for in medical negligence is simply that the treatment expected should be that to the standard of a reasonable body of practitioners. The day of the week does not come into it, and we do not believe there is any policy that could be issued by a trust which would justify waiting until the staff are back from the weekend to provide treatment.

At Coffin Mew we are help many clients who have been the victims of the “weekend” delays. In serious matters the delays are catastrophic. If someone suffers a subarachnoid haemorrhage, heart attack, or serious kidney infection or time is of the essence. Time lost can increase subsequent disability or even result in death.

We applaud the government for trying to increase GP services to make access to healthcare more efficient, but would welcome the government taking steps to tackle the weekend gaps in accessing high level assessment for the most serious of conditions.