John* died 6 months after his doctor suddenly stopped the diazepam prescription he had been taking for 10 years.

A patient being prescribed benzodiazepines in the UK in can have their prescription terminated by the prescriber (which can be life-threatening) and also be denied access to any care and support. This is because all responsibility for diagnosis and treatment of patients suffering the adverse effects of benzodiazepines (where they have been medically prescribed), lies with the GP.

John was prescribed diazepam for 10 years when his doctor stopped his prescription without warning.  Within days, John developed acute benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms including hallucinations, memory loss, seizure-like episodes  (6 months before, he had a grand mal seizure when his diazepam was accidentally stopped when he was in hospital for an unrelated condition), sensory disturbances, difficulty with walking, reading and writing  and many other disabling symptoms.  John urgently needed his diazepam prescription reinstated and also practical support as he was too ill to take care of himself, but this required the backing of his GP.

Johns’ GP refused to reinstate his diazepam prescription nor offered any other medical care and  refused to refer him to social care for a needs assessment. This made it impossible for John to access any practical help as social services, drug and alcohol services and all other support agencies required a referral from his GP.

John only had a medical diagnosis of ‘anxiety and depression’, so it was impossible to challenge the GPs’ decision and there were no external organisations or experts with the authority to intervene on his behalf.

In the 6 months prior to Johns’ death, he received no medical care or support. His state of health was poor and he was very malnourished.  The results of Johns’ post mortem were inconclusive and the influence/role of benzodiazepines did not feature in any investigations surrounding his death.

*Name changed for confidentiality.