GPs Not Liable for Woman’s Death from Stroke


Medical staff often have to choose between different treatment options, which can lead to questions being raised about their decisions if something goes wrong. However, in the tragic case of a mother-of-two who died of a stroke at the age of 42, the High Court ruled that two GPs who had seen her in the preceding months were not liable to compensate her estate.

The woman’s blood pressure had been taken at her surgery on six occasions between 2011 and 2016, and her readings were high on each occasion. She became pregnant in late 2016, and in April 2017 she was prescribed labetalol, a drug used to treat high blood pressure during pregnancy. She was seen by two GPs at the surgery in September and October 2017. It was decided to await the results of ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM), by which blood pressure is measured as the patient goes about their daily life. In January 2018, she suffered a fatal stroke.

The administrators of her estate brought a claim alleging that the two GPs should have prescribed anti-hypertensive drugs immediately, rather than waiting for the ABPM results. The first GP conceded that he should have accessed the six previous readings and should have realised that a normal reading in April 2017 had been taken the day after she was prescribed labetalol. He would not then have suspected that her hypertension was related to her recent pregnancy. However, the Court noted that none of the previous readings were within the category of severe hypertension, and it had not been argued that anti-hypertensives should have been prescribed when those readings were taken. The approach of the first GP was therefore justified.

The Court agreed that the second GP should have raised the possibility of prescribing anti-hypertensives immediately, given what he ought to have known about the woman’s medical history and attendance record. However, it found that she would probably have chosen to continue with ABPM. While expressing sympathy for the woman’s family, the Court concluded that the claim must fail.

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