Victim of Herpes Simplex Encephalitis Wins Claim Against GP


Damages claims for medical negligence are often resisted on the basis that there was no breach of duty on the part of medical staff and that earlier treatment would not have improved the outcome. However, the family of a man who contracted herpes simplex encephalitis successfully overcame both of these obstacles when his claim came before the High Court.

The man, who worked as an IT consultant, was 43 when he contracted the herpes simplex virus. He complained of feeling ill over the weekend, and his sister returned from work on Monday to find him feeling feverish and suffering from a severe headache. He visited his GP the following morning, accompanied by his sister. The GP concluded that he had a migraine, noting that he had presented with similar symptoms before, and prescribed paracetamol. Three days later he was admitted to hospital as an emergency patient and given acyclovir, an anti-viral drug. He suffered a significant brain injury and now lacks the capacity to live independently or manage his property and affairs.

A claim was brought on the man’s behalf on the grounds that his GP ought to have realised he was suffering from a serious neurological condition that required urgent hospital admission. The GP argued that there was no breach of duty and that starting treatment with acyclovir on the day of the appointment would not have resulted in a better outcome.

The Court ruled that, based on the man’s behaviour and the symptoms described by his sister, his GP should have referred him to hospital on the day of the appointment. After considering evidence from medical experts, the Court concluded that if this had occurred, treatment with acyclovir would have started soon afterwards, resulting in less severe neurological damage. He would have been able to live independently on a day-to-day basis and would have been able to return to work in IT, albeit in a reduced capacity.

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