This article was published on August 3rd, 2017
Courts have ruled that medical practitioners who do not carry out routine tests cannot be expected to foresee fatal symptoms and will not be punished for clinical negligence.
The ruling comes after an optometrist who failed to identify a schoolboy’s fatal condition had her manslaughter conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal.
The optometrist did not spot that her patient had swollen optic discs, which is a symptom of fluid on the brain.
The boy died 5 months after the consultation and the optometrist was handed a 2 year suspended sentence, and ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service.
However, judges quashed the woman’s conviction as they deemed that whilst there had been a “serious breach of duty,” it was not severe enough to be classed as gross negligence manslaughter.
One of the three judges presiding over the case said that it could not have been possible for the optometrist to have known that the schoolboy was suffering from a long-term condition when she conducted a routine eye test.
He also said that should the original conviction be upheld “this would fundamentally undermine the established legal test of foreseeability in gross negligence manslaughter which requires proof of a ‘serious and obvious risk of death’ at the time of breach.”
He also added that people within the medical profession would suffer if the original conviction had been upheld, as they would be eligible for penalisation should they fail to carry out a routine eye or blood test.
The parents of the deceased schoolboy argue that “this case now opens the gates for medical practitioners to operate outside of the standard at which they are required to perform, without full accountability or responsibility to uphold their duty of care.”
During the trial, the optometrist claimed she was shown the wrong images of the schoolboy’s previous retinal scan which showed significant swelling of the optic nerve.
In July 2012 the young boy was sent home from school after complaining of feeling ill. Barely 6 hours later he passed away.
The optometrist has not practiced since 2013 and remains under an interim suspension order by the General Optical Council (GOC) which is due to expire next year.
A spokesperson for the GOC said that they were ‘aware of the Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn the conviction’ and that the GOC was giving the matter due consideration.
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