A NUMBER of GPs have been calling MDDUS for advice about their obligations to visit patients in the current adverse weather conditions. Doctors must make every reasonable effort to undertake necessary home visits to ill patients but should avoid creating further problems by becoming snowbound or having an accident while travelling.
It is essentially the application of common sense rather than any legal or service requirements. Patients who request house calls should be asked what the conditions of the roads are like in their immediate area. Main roads are being cleared but side roads, where people live, may not be.
It would be wrong for doctors or nurses to set off in adverse conditions then become stuck in snow or have an accident, and thereby render themselves ‘out of action’. It is much more sensible to remain in the surgery and encourage patients to attend.
We have had reports from GPs in badly affected parts of the country who have heroically trudged through the snow for an hour in order to see patients. No doubt there will always be emergencies but it is vital for doctors to ensure they gather as much information as possible about the patient’s previous medical condition and their present difficulties to allow them to decide what is in the patient’s best interests.
It may well be that ordering an ambulance, either blue light or otherwise, or notifying other emergency services would be the best and quickest option depending on the patient’s symptoms.
As the travel chaos continues each practice will have to make plans as to what to do in these circumstances. It may be that one or more of the doctors has a 4x4 vehicle and can actually attend non-emergency but urgent house calls.
ACTION In extreme or risky weather conditions the general advice to doctors undertaking home visits is to gather as much information as possible, decide on urgency, act in the patient’s best interests and apply common sense.
Dr Jim Rodger, head of professional services, MDDUS