• Mrs Donald’s family sued Balllochmyle Practice in Mauchline, Ayrshire
• Court heard Mrs Donald had a history of leg problems
• Mrs Donald was rushed to hospital, nine days after visiting her GP
• She died in the accident and emergency department
Maria “Bernie” Donald, 45, went to see her GP after collapsing with breathlessness but the doctor put it down to panic attacks and anxiety.
However, her condition persisted in the following days and she had to be rushed to hospital. She died in the accident and emergency department.
Mrs Donald’s husband, Robin, and their four daughters, Gillian, 30, Emma, 25, and twins Sarah and Ruth, 24, sued Ballochmyle Practice, Mauchline, Ayrshire, and cited alleged negligence by Dr John Cleland, a partner at the time of Mrs Donald’s death on
6 August 2003, and now retired.
Lord Glennie heard that Mrs Donald was “constantly afraid of dying of DVT”. A medical expert told the Court of Session in Edinburgh that Mrs Donald’s DVT was likely to have developed over a matter of weeks, and to have been present when Dr Cleland saw her.
The judge said: “I conclude that Dr Cleland’s negligence on 28 July in failing to refer Mrs Donald to hospital resulted in her death. Had he referred her then, she would not have died of a pulmonary embolism on
In July 2003, Mrs Donald saw Dr Cleland and she told her husband that the doctor had thought she was suffering from panic attacks and anxiety. He prescribed medication.
She saw him again later in the month, and complained that it felt like “an elephant is sitting on my chest.”
According to her husband, who was present, she also reported pain in her leg, but the diagnosis remained one of panic attacks. Dr Cleland said he did not recall any mention of leg pain.
He said that if he had been presented with symptoms suggesting chest pain, combined with leg pain and constant breathlessness, he would have noted it and acted.
The family insisted that Dr Cleland had become “locked into” the diagnosis of panic attacks and had been blind to any other explanation of the symptoms with which Mrs Donald presented on later occasions.
Lord Glennie said he accepted Mr Donald’s account of the consultation of 28 July, and expert evidence clearly established that “Dr Cleland ought to have done more and ought to have referred Mrs Donald to hospital.”
The judge added: “He was negligent not to have done so.”
Lawyers for Dr Cleland argued that it could not be shown, on a balance of probabilities, that tests in hospital, if a referral had been made, would have picked up anything which would have prevented Mrs Donald’s death.