With recent studies demonstrating a marked increase in the number of clinical negligence claims brought against General Practitioners (GPs), why is there a continuing failure to tackle the most common source of these claims – missed diagnoses?
By Ben Lees
A recent article published in the online journal, British Medical Journal Open, demonstrates that, in the UK, negligence claims against GPs made up the greatest proportion of an overall 20% increase in claims between 2009 and 2010. Further, the total number of claims against GPs has more than doubled since 1994. The most common source of these claims was missed or delayed diagnoses.
We are often approached by clients who feel let down by their GP. It could be that the GP has failed to conduct appropriate or timely investigations, failed to correctly interpret or act upon test results, or (as is often the case) failed to make a timely referral to an appropriate specialist. Moreover, many of our clients report feeling as though their concerns were trivialised, dismissed, or simply ignored, which can leave them feeling uncertain as to where to turn when symptoms continue.
Unfortunately, the consequences of a missed diagnosis can be devastating.
Examples of missed diagnoses are varied and can range from undetected fractures of small bones in the hands and feet through to significant delays in diagnosing serious conditions such as cancer, heart conditions or meningitis. We acted for a client whose GP failed to pick up on common signs of meningitis when he attended an appointment. The GP failed to undertake a physical examination. Within a few hours of his GP appointment, our client was admitted to hospital in a coma. He was lucky to survive but is now permanently deaf.
We also acted for a client whose husband’s coronary heart disease went undiagnosed by his GP (and other clinicians) over a period of years. Tragically, our client died after collapsing on holiday, and it was only during the post mortem that significant coronary heart disease with stenosis of the main arteries was identified. Had this been diagnosed promptly he could have undergone urgent heart surgery which would have saved his life.
The studies referred to in the BMJ Open article highlight a worrying proportional increase in GP negligence claims relating to misdiagnoses in recent years. It is hoped that the article will raise awareness of this fact, and result in better training and improved standards. Further, it is hoped that a change in culture can be instigated whereby patients can report their symptoms honestly and accurately, and can be reassured that their concerns are being properly considered.