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Man develops life-changing brain injury after Romford GP’s wrong diagnosis

Gurmukh Gahir, known as Sonny.

A man developed life-changing brain injuries after a Havering GP wrongly diagnosed him with a migraine.

(Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Sebastian Mann)

Gurmukh Gahir, known as Sonny, visited a GP in Romford, after he felt unwell back in 2018.

Unusually, he required his sister, Gagun, to guide him to the surgery despite his familiarity with the area and to speak on his behalf during the appointment. These were the warning signs of encephalitis, a rare but serious brain infection.

However, the doctor – who the family did not wish to name – diagnosed the 43-year-old with a migraine and prescribed Paramax, which alleviates nausea and headaches.

Three days later, his condition deteriorated significantly and he was admitted to Queen’s Hospital in Romford, where he was diagnosed with herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE).

Now 49, Sonny suffers from severe cognitive difficulties, his family says. He cannot work or live independently, nor does he have the capacity to manage his own finances.

Gagun, chairwoman of the charity Encephalitis International, said the disease “maroons” survivors and their loved ones.

Dr Ava Easton, chief executive of the charity, added that early diagnosis “invariably meant” quicker access to treatment.

She said: “With early diagnosis and treatment many more patients will make a good recovery and, almost certainly, the high death rates associated with the condition can be reduced, along with the often life changing disabilities facing those who survive the condition.

“Unfortunately cases like this serve to remind healthcare professionals of the critical importance of early diagnosis and treatment for patients and the families who support them.”

Following a successful liability-only trial at the High Court in June 2023, Judge Robinson ruled in February that this could have been avoided with a more prompt diagnosis.

During the seven-day trial, the court heard allegations made by Sonny’s family that the GP had failed to note the symptoms he had and that he had cognitive impairment and delirium.

His family also argued the GP had failed to carry out a mental state examination and failed to refer him to the hospital.

The judge agreed the doctor missed the warning signs of confusion, including his altered personality and change in cognition, and found that if Sonny had been taken to the hospital earlier and given acyclovir treatment, his outcome would have been improved.

Acyclovir is an antiviral medication used to treat herpes, chickenpox and shingles. The NHS says it is important to start taking it as soon as people see the first signs of infection.

Dr Mala Sidebottom, who represented Sonny and his family with the legal firm Moore Barlow, said: “We’re very pleased with the outcome but it’s unfortunate that it’s taken several years to get to this stage. This has been very difficult for Sonny and his family.

“We will now need to quantify his case so that he can finally receive the treatment and support that he and his family desperately need.”

The more serious symptoms of encephalitis can come on over hours, days or weeks, according to NHS guidance, while early-stage indicators resemble the flu.

Medical experts at Encephalitis International say HSE can present a “dilemma” for clinicians.

During the early stages, when treatment would be most effective, the symptoms can be very general and so there may be several possible diagnoses.

The mortality rate of encephalitis varies, but can be up to 40%.

It depends on a number of factors, including the cause, the individual’s underlying health, and the treatment they receive.

The NHS did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

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