Selsey GPs fail in High Court challenge

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Two Selsey GPs who were officially criticised over a 76-year-old patient’s sudden and “avoidable” death have failed in a High Court bid to lift the blot from their reputations.

Dr Mark Howarth and Dr Katherine Miller were taken to task by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in October last year.

They were found to have failed in their care and treatment of pensioner, William Peter Pollard, who died at home from a burst abscess in June 2013.

The ombudsman said his treatment “fell so far below the applicable standard as to be a service failure” and that, had he been properly cared for, he would probably have survived.

His distressed widow had suffered “an injustice” as a result of his death and the ombudsman recommended the GPs pay her £15,000 compensation.

The GPs, both of whom practised at the Seal Medical Centre in Selsey at the time, mounted a challenge to the ombudsman’s report at London’s High Court.

But top judge, Mr Justice Lewis, said he could find nothing wrong with the decision and rejected the medics’ complaints.

The court heard Mrs Pollard phoned the surgery on June 13, 2012, requesting a home visit for her husband who was feeling unwell.

Dr Howarth duly arrived at the couple’s home and diagnosed a urinary tract infection, prescribing antibiotics.

Mr Pollard’s condition failed to improve and his wife telephoned the surgery for advice on June 15, saying he was still in pain.

She spoke to Dr Miller who, according to her notes, explained it was “still a bit early” for the tablets to take effect.

Two days later, on June 17, Mrs Pollard remained deeply concerned about her husband’s condition and rang an out of hours GP.

She was put through the ambulance service but her husband died whilst she was on the phone, said the judge.

The cause of death was a burst abscess which triggered an internal infection, peritonitis.

Mrs Pollard complained to the General Medical Council about Dr Howarth, but the regulatory body decided to “take no further action”.

She was unwilling to let the matter rest, however, and complained to the ombudsman in September 2012.

The ombudsman found that, had Mr Pollard received appropriate care from Dr Miller on June 15, his death “would probably have been avoided”.

At the High Court, the GPs argued they had not been given a fair hearing and the ombudsman decided the issues “with a closed mind”.

Rejecting their challenge, however, Mr Justice Lewis said the ombudsman was entitled to find that Mr Pollard’s death was “avoidable”.

He added that no fair minded observer would have concluded that the ombudsman had pre-judged the issues.

The ombudsman also had power to recommend the £15,000 payment “as financial redress in order to remedy injustice”.

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