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GPs miss malignancies the most

11 June 2007

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A study of settled GP claims reveals that malignancy is the most frequent condition GPs miss or delay diagnosing. The MDU has paid £9m in settling 148 claims following a delay or failure in diagnosis of malignancy by its GP members over a five-year period.

The proportion of claims settled following a delay or failure to diagnose malignancy has risen from 11% of claims in a 1998 study to 24% of cases in the new analysis. The cancers most commonly missed or delayed were breast (38 cases), bowel (19) and skin (17). The highest compensation award of £500,000 was made to a patient following failure to diagnose malignant melanoma (skin cancer).

Dr Karen Roberts, MDU clinical risk manager and author of the study, published in the latest edition of the MDU Journal, said:

“Delay in diagnosis is not necessarily negligent – cancers are common diseases and signs and symptoms can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from other, nonserious, conditions. Cases can be defended if the clinical management is shown to be competent.

“However, looking at the common themes identified from these cases, many incidents are down to system failures, rather than individual error. Our advice to GPs to help avoid diagnosis problems includes: ensure patients know when to return if symptoms have not resolved, implement a safe system for following up test results and recalling patients about whom they have particular concerns, and record all consultations in the notes, taking care to note negative as well as positive findings.”