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GPs need protection from cancer delay claims

25 June 2015

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There has been a doubling in claims from melanoma patients and GPs are particularly vulnerable, MDU research suggests.

According to research by the Medical Defence Union (MDU), the leading indemnifier of UK doctors, there has been a doubling in melanoma claims from 1996 to 2012, with 95% of patients alleging a delay or incorrect diagnosis.

The majority (85%) of 145 claims notified over a fifteen year period involved GPs who are particularly vulnerable to facing a claim for a delay in diagnosing melanoma because they are usually responsible for making an initial diagnosis and referring patients, Dr Michael Devlin, MDU head of professional standards and liaison, said.

“We’ve seen a gradual increase in melanoma claims in recent years, which may partly be a result of the overall increase in incidence of this type of cancer. Melanoma is especially challenging because without adequate training and experience, diagnosis can be difficult. Therefore we encourage doctors to seek further training if required and to work in line with national and locally-agreed guidelines,” Devlin said.

If things go wrong or the outcome is poor or unexpected he recommends GPs give patients an explanation, an apology, and take action to fix the problem, as well as talking to their medical organisation as soon as possible.

“It is also important to remember that claims arise from melanomas on all parts of the body. Common sites of melanomas in the cases we looked at were the trunk, legs, head and back. However, a smaller percentage of melanomas were also detected on the foot,” he said.