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Remote GP calls may have contributed to five deaths, says coroner.


Remote GP appointments may have been a contributing factor in the deaths of five people who were not given face-to-face GP appointments, a coroner has concluded.

Senior coroner for Greater Manchester South, Alison Mutch, said important information missed in telephone appointments may have been acted on if the patients had been seen in person.

Ms Mutch has asked health secretary, Sajid Javid, and NHS England to take action to tackle risks associated with remote appointments, a Health Service Journal investigation found.

One woman, Fadhia Seguleh, who had phone call appointments with her GP about her anxiety and depression, killed herself in her own home. The coroner said the lack of ‘in-person’ access to her doctor made it harder to assess her needs.

Ms Mutch was also concerned about the deaths of three other people who died from conditions including a fatal blood clot in the lung; undiagnosed Covid-19 and a drug overdose.

A fifth patient, an elderly man with severe underlying health conditions, died after breaking a bone that was not identified by hospital doctors and his GP in a telephone consultation.

The coroner’s concern adds to growing worries that  a shift away from from in-person appointments, accelerated by pandemic lockdowns, can lead to missed diagnoses.

One of the deaths involved Maurice Leech, who died in Thorncliffe Grange Nursing Home, Manchester, after A&E doctors and his GP failed to realize, during a virtual appointment, that he had broken his femur.

Mr Leech was admitted to hospital after an accidental fall and medics did not give the correct x-ray. In another case, Steven Allen died in his Stockport home after taking a fatal level of prescribed medicine.

He had a history of drug addiction and was prescribed medicines including strong painkiller oxycodone through a consultation with his GP that happened after a GP phone call as a result of the pandemic.

The other deaths, which were the subject of the coroner’s concern, involved Stanislaw Zielinski, who died from cardiac arrest and a blocked blood vessel in his lung, after he had been hospitalised following a fall from his window.

Mr Zielinski, who was suffering from insomnia and anxiety, told his GP of his mental state one year earlier, but his appointments were limited to phone calls because of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Brian Mottram died in Tameside from undiagnosed Covid after feeling unwell for a week. Two days before he was found unresponsive, Mr Mottram had a phone appointment with his GP.

Ms Mutch sent five reports to health authorities, including local trusts, health secretary, Sajid Javid, and NHS England, urging them to take action, according to the Health Service Journal.

Almost 1,000 GP practices have been ordered to improve patient access, amid growing concern about the number of patients struggling to see a family doctor.