Patient's widow: NI doctor wins challenge to £10,000 payment

Appeal Court in Belfast The case was heard in the Appeal Court in Belfast

A Northern Ireland GP has won his legal challenge to a finding that he must pay £10,000 to a deceased patient's widow.

Judges in the Court of Appeal quashed a complaints commissioner's decision to recommend the consolatory payment for alleged maladministration.

Two of three judges held there was no legal authority for the cash proposal.

The doctor, who cannot be identified, issued legal proceedings over findings made against him following the death of his patient in 2009.

Before he died, the man had been complaining of chest pains and seeking access to a specialist clinic.

Although his doctor did refer him to a rapid access chest pain clinic, an appointment was refused because he had recently had an electrocardiogram (ECG)test.

The GP's practice filed the clinic's reply letter but took no action.

'Declined appointment'

In January 2009, after the patient attended again to ask why he had not received an appointment, a further referral was made for a treadmill test.

However, the man died later that day from coronary artery artheroma.

His widow complained to the GP that her husband was not told about the declined appointment with the clinic.

She also claimed this was never followed up and lodged a complaint with the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints.

The commissioner determined that the patient should have received better follow-up care from his GP following a treadmill test in 2008.

A £10,000 consolatory payment was recommended to the dead man's widow for maladministration.

The GP agreed to issue an apology, but challenged the commissioner's power to either propose a payout, or make a special report to the Northern Ireland Assembly if he refused to comply.

Following a failed judicial review challenge, the doctor took his case to the Court of Appeal.

No power

Two of the three judges ruled that a damages claim was deliberately omitted from the relevant legislation to ensure no question of monetary compensation arose in such cases.

On that basis, the commissioner had no power to recommend the payment of cash.

Pointing to the lack of conciliation in the case, Lord Justice Girvan said it was the commissioner rather than the complainant who raised the idea of money.

"No clear explanation is given as to what precise factors were taken into account in the decision to recommend a monetary payment or in relation as to how the sum was quantified," the judge said.

Further concluding that the commissioner was not entitled to lay a report before the assembly, Lord Justice Girvan said it gave the impression that the intention was to make the doctor comply.

He added: "It had all the hallmarks of a threat... and one which understandably has caused the GP deep concern as to the consequences which would flow for his reputation and the impact it would have in his relationship with other patients."

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