Medical Mistake Claims - Simpson Millar LLP

Untrained GPs blamed for 2,000 child deaths

Author: Neil Fearn  Bullet  Dated: 09/04/2013

The Independent newspaper recently claimed that "almost 2,000 British children a year die from 'avoidable' causes because family doctors lack training in paediatric care".

The story comes from a review of health services for children across 15 countries in the European Union which found that while child survival rates have improved greatly in the past 30 years, many countries are not keeping pace with changing patterns in child health.

The review found that the UK is second-to-last in the 'league table', with nearly 2,000 more child deaths each year than Sweden, which had the lowest death rates.

The authors of the review point out that in the UK, the first point of contact for families – the GP – often receives no specific training in child health beyond undergraduate degree level. It goes on to argue that UK services should be reorganised so that they are able to respond to children's health needs more successfully.

It is important to stress that the study has simply highlighted and compared the outcomes on child health in different countries and discusses the different ways that services are organised and is not a scientific trial. And whilst a link between excess child deaths and a lack of specialist training in child health for GPs may be implied by the review, it cannot be proven.

It is important to remember that child death rates are significantly lower in the UK than they were 25 or 50 years ago and overall the review found that child survival has improved greatly in all 15 countries in the last 30 years as a result of improvements in public health, healthcare and wider social factors. This study does not say that Britain's GPs do not have enough training to give children the medical care they need as The Independent's headline suggests.

The researchers say that:

  • Child health systems in Europe are not adapting sufficiently to children's evolving health needs, leading to "avoidable deaths, suboptimal outcomes, and inefficient use of health services".
  • If all the 15 countries had child mortality similar to that of Sweden (the country with the best rate), a total of more than 6,000 deaths per year could be prevented
  • New chronic care models for children are needed to improve care and outcomes for non-communicable diseases and ensure better quality-of-life for children and families. Several countries have made progress in development of chronic care services and offer lessons for others
  • The quality of first-contact care services (primary care) and outcomes for children in Europe are highly variable. Flexible models, with teams of primary care professionals trained in child health working closely together, might offer a way to balance expertise with access
  • Awareness of the importance of investment in health in the earliest years is growing. Individual countries and European Union-wide organisations should strengthen investment in child health and health services research
  • Politicians and policy makers should do more to translate high-level goals for child health into policy. Investment in social protection policies for the earliest years and the most vulnerable children will improve health, reduce inequities and accumulate advantages throughout life

The review is important because it has found large variations in both child mortality rates and the delivery of health services to meet children's needs within the initial 15 countries of the EU and that the healthcare needs of children are changing and therefore it is important that policies, systems and practices are developed that can face this challenge and that countries learn from each other.

Nevertheless, it is still the case that some common illnesses are frequently missed or misdiagnosed in both primary care and acute settings.

Many illnesses are easily identified through routine investigations such as blood tests. In some instances it may be the case that the investigations were simply not carried out. However, it is more often the case that the tests are carried out and the results are either incorrectly reported, misunderstood or filed without review or lost.

Unfortunately, such a simple mistake can still result in what would be an avoidable injury or fatality.

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