Case study - Obvious mistake, honest apology

Medical case study.

  • Date: 28 November 2014

Day one

Mr G is a self-employed builder and attends his local practice for an emergency appointment complaining of a very sore ear. He is seen by the triage nurse who examines the patient and notes a purulent discharge from the ear. She diagnoses otitis media and writes a prescription for amoxicillin.

Day two

Mr G’s wife phones the surgery and informs the receptionist that she would like to speak to a doctor in order to make a complaint. The receptionist forwards the call to the practice manager. Mrs G states that her husband had just come home from work early feeling unwell and suffering from an itchy skin rash and swelling. Mrs G checked the label on the tablets her husband had been given from the pharmacy and looked it up on the internet – only then realising that amoxicillin is a “type of penicillin”. She says the practice should be aware that her husband is allergic to penicillin. The PM asks to ring Mrs G straight back. She calls up Mr G’s file and confirms there is indeed an alert for penicillin allergy. After speaking to the senior GP partner, she phones Mrs G and advises that her husband should stop taking the amoxicillin. She tells her to pick up some antihistamine tablets for her husband at the pharmacy and apologises for the mistake. She also offers to send Mrs G a copy of the practice’s complaints procedures.

Day five

Mr G attends the surgery still complaining of allergic symptoms and a painful ear. He is angry because he missed three days of work, and being self-employed this resulted in lost earnings. The senior GP partner sees Mr G and apologises again for the error.

Day nine

The practice receives a formal letter of complaint from Mr G in which he recounts the consultation for his earache and states that when given the amoxicillin script he had reminded the triage nurse that he was allergic to penicillin. The PM acknowledges the letter and undertakes a formal investigation of the incident. She speaks (again) to the triage nurse who states that she had consulted the minor illnesses book used regularly by the practice nurses and it stated that many antibiotics were contraindicated in penicillin allergy but for amoxicillin it stated only “avoid using for patients with allergies”. The nurse felt it was okay to prescribe the amoxicillin as the word “avoid” did not suggest an explicit instruction not to do so in patients with penicillin allergy. The PM writes a formal reply to the complaint, again apologising for the error and also setting out steps the practice will take to ensure it is not repeated in future.

Day 13

Mrs G phones the practice to say her husband has received the letter but is surprised there is no offer in respect of his loss of earnings. The PM replies that it is not practice policy to offer compensation in patient complaints. Mrs G then says that she and her husband have taken advice from a solicitor and without such an offer they will be forced to sue. The PM contacts MDDUS who advises the practice to reply in writing restating practice policy on the matter.

Day 20

A letter arrives from solicitors representing Mr G claiming negligence on the part of the triage nurse for which the practice partners are vicariously liable. The letter states that as a result of Mr G being off work he had lost a contract worth over £3,000 and he is seeking compensation for that amount.



THE PM contacts MDDUS again and forwards all relevant medical records and correspondence. The case is assessed and given the clear breach in duty of care acknowledged by the practice it is decided that the best course is to settle on behalf of the practice based on an accurate accounting of Mr G’s loss of earnings. The practice later conducts a significant event analysis to ensure that all such contraindications are accounted for. Further training is provided for practice nurses involved in prescribing, with particular emphasis on contraindications.


  • Double check records and confirm any potential medication allergies.
  • Ensure practice staff are fully trained and competent to carry out delegated clinical tasks.
  • Consider guidance used to support clinical decisions/prescribing.
  • Candour along with a sincere apology can often (though not always) forestall further legal action in patient complaints.

From Practice Manager Issue 11 p14

Click here for a PDF of this issue of Practice Manager

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Read more from this issue of Practice Manager

Practice Manager is published twice yearly and distributed to MDDUS practice managers and others with management responsibility in dental and medical surgeries. It features articles on employment law, health and safety, risk as well as profiles of practices across the UK. Browse our current and back issues below.
In this issue

Related Content

Coroner's inquests

Consent checklist

Confidentiality checklist

Save this article

Save this article to a list of favourite articles which members can access in their account.

Save to library

For registration, or any login issues, please visit our login page.