The Medical Defence Union (MDU) paid out nearly £3m in compensation on behalf of GP members to settle 30 claims arising from the treatment of patients with depression during a recent 10-year period.
Professor Femi Oyebode, consultant psychiatrist and MDU Council member, analysed the main reasons for claims relating to patients with depression (excluding postnatal depression).
"Depression is a relatively common presentation in general practice and in most cases, the care of patients with depression is generally straightforward and without incident," he said.
"However, when something does go wrong, the nature of the condition and the type of medication involved means there is significant potential for an adverse outcome, including the risk that the patient will harm themselves in some way, including a small number of tragic cases where a patient has committed suicide."
Examples of cases settled by the MDU include:
Professor Oyebode highlights three main areas of risk highlighted when treating depressed patients: problems with medication; a failure to diagnose or treat an unrelated condition in a depressed patient; and a failure to recognise the risk of suicide in a depressed patient.
The MDU's advice for GPs on how to avoid such problems includes the following: