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The law must recognise that medicine isn’t perfect and neither are our doctors

10 September 2015

5:34 PM

10 September 2015

5:34 PM

The liberal-left is very rapid to react when a terror suspect faces deportation or an extremist preacher is put under house-arrest. So why isn’t it on the streets chanting the name of Honey Rose? Ms Rose is an optometrist who appeared in court on Tuesday charged with manslaughter by gross negligence after allegedly failing to spot a condition known as papilloedema while examining an eight-year-old boy during a shift at Boots. Sadly, the boy later died.

I always used to associate manslaughter with husbands who bashed their wives over the head and whom it couldn’t quite be proven that they had intended to kill them, or with muggers who assailed their victims solely with the intent of grabbing their wallet, not knowing that they had a heart condition.

So why is such a serious charge being used against someone who is accused of making a professional mistake? It has overtones of the six Italian seismologists sentenced to six years in jail – though later acquitted – for failing to predict an earthquake in the city of L’Aquila in 2009. Making an incorrect scientific judgement has been elevated into a serious crime.

While not wishing to pronounce on this case, there will be very serious repercussions if doctors and scientists are going to be dragged into the courts over alleged misjudgements. Doctors, terrified of failing to spot lurking conditions, are never going to let a case go without referring the patient for further examination. Any spot, any shadow, any abnormality which could conceivably indicate a serious condition will be seized upon. Hospitals and consulting rooms will fill up with patients called in to have further examinations on what are almost certainly benign conditions but which no doctor or nurse will dare to dismiss as such.

It will be a field day for lawyers, but not for patients who do have serious conditions and who find themselves stuck in a queue behind mass referrals from worried doctors.

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