What constitutes medical misdiagnosis?
Misdiagnosis can occur at any point when a healthcare professional is required to make a decision regarding the medical status of a patient. Misdiagnosis may occur when:
- A medical professional provides a diagnosis of a condition to a patient which is incorrect
- No diagnosis is made at all when it should be
- A diagnosis is made later than it should be
It is important to understand that medical misdiagnosis is not confined to hospital doctors. This may occur due to the negligent actions of any health professional, whether in a primary, secondary, or a tertiary health setting, and whether private or public health.
It may be a radiologist provides the wrong interpretation of a medical image (e.g. a misread x-rays, CT, or MRI), an A&E physician fails to notice an injury or problem which later causes a health complication, or a GP fails to notice symptoms of illness or disease which require treatment or onward referral to a specialist, eg failure to identify the signs of a brain tumour.
There are a wide range of potentially life-threatening conditions which are misdiagnosed including cancer, sepsis, diabetes, and meningitis – often because the symptoms are confused with other common or less serious conditions.
Which medical conditions are most commonly misdiagnosed?
Cancer misdiagnosis or late diagnosis can lead to early death. In November 2017, it was reported that the number of cancer patients successfully suing the NHS for misdiagnosis had doubled in the previous five years. Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England has stated that early cancer diagnosis makes a “staggering” difference to patients, potentially improving their chances chance of survival by 18 times. As such, early and correct diagnosis is vital to the outcome of those with cancer.
Bowel cancer is one such cancer that is sometimes misdiagnosed, due in part to the presumption that it occurs in those over 50, when in fact its prevalence is increasing in young people. Unfortunately, this means the condition is often not considered for people under 30 presenting with symptoms of the disease. Bowel cancer can include cancer within any part of the lower bowel, including the colon, rectum, anus, or small bowel. The main symptoms include bleeding when going to the toilet, changes in bowel habits in the previous three weeks, unexplained loss of weight, extreme tiredness, abdominal lumps, and feeling overly full and bloated after eating. If you have any of these symptoms, visit your GP.
Cases of cancer misdiagnosis
At IBB Claims, we have assisted people to claim the compensation they are owed following late diagnosis or misdiagnosis of cancer. Examples of cases where there has been a late diagnosis or misdiagnosis are as follows.
- A 22-year-old woman from Colchester who died after doctors mistook her cancer for pregnancy. The tumour, known as adenocarcinoma, produced pregnancy hormones, but by the time it was correctly diagnosed it was too late, and the patient died three weeks later.
- A 28-year-old woman was told by a dermatologist that she had skin cancer when in fact she was suffering from a treatable STI, something that was revealed by a full body scan conducted six months after the misdiagnosis.
- The widow of a man whose doctor had failed to spot he had bowel cancer was awarded £50,000 in 2014 after a judge ruled that the GP responsible for making the diagnosis provided “sub-standard” care.
Reasons for cancer misdiagnosis
Cancers are diagnosed incorrectly, or too late, because of excessive pressure on pathology departments tasked with assessing high volumes of biopsy samples, radiologists who have insufficient time to properly review medical imaging scans (leading to a misread scan), results being interpreted incorrectly, delays in referrals by GP’s for further scans and tests, breaching of the cancer target times to be seen and treated, and insufficient time with patients to make a proper diagnosis.
Patients typically present initially to their GP with symptoms of diabetes. Diabetes is increasingly common in the British population and internationally, and should be detected in its earliest stages (pre-diabetes). In some cases, patients are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (a condition whereby the pancreas produces insulin, but blood sugar remains excessive within the blood as it cannot be taken up by the cells of the body), when they should be tested for type 1 diabetes (whereby the pancreas does not produce insulin). In part, this is because it is assumed type 1 diabetes is mainly seen in children. Any patient who has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes who is not responding to the treatment they have been provided should consider seeing their GP to ask if they may have type 1 diabetes. It is important that you receive the proper blood tests and specialist referral if your GP believes you have diabetes to ensure the correct diagnosis can be made.
Meningitis is a particularly dangerous brain infection, which if not detected early can kill. The signs and symptoms of meningitis are all too easily confused with much less serious medical conditions, such as the flu, and therefore it is vital for health professionals to be vigilant. Patients presenting with headaches, vomiting, rashes, fever, muscle pains, confusion and irritability should be considered for meningitis.
Other serious conditions
Other serious conditions which are commonly misdiagnosed include:
- Spinal Injury misdiagnosis – spinal injuries such as tumours, herniated discs, infection, fractures, or cauda equina syndrome can lead to permanent disability if not detected and treated early. Failure to diagnose such injuries can lead to paralysis, and the loss of sexual, bladder and bowel function, and loss of sensation. A missed diagnosis may be made by an A&E doctor, specialist hospital doctor / consultant, GPs, radiologist, or neuroradiologist.
- Testicular torsion – testicular torsion is a serious medical condition which occurs when the testicle rotates causing the spermatic cord to become twisted, thereby cutting off the blood supply. When this happens, the individual suffers extreme levels of pain and swelling. If this is suspected, the patient should be admitted to hospital immediately for urgent attention by paediatric or urology medical specialists. Any male presenting to their GP or accident and emergency department should be assessed for testicular torsion if they are suffering acute groin pain and swelling – especially if under the age of 30. Due to the loss of blood supply, by addressing the problem within six hours, the chance of saving the testicle is 90%, versus 10% if the problem is only rectified 24 hours after the torsion occurred.
- Ectopic pregnancy – ectopic pregnancy occurs when an embryo is located in the fallopian tube, rather than the uterus. Not only will the embryo not develop fully, but by remaining in the fallopian tube, there is a serious risk of rupture. Such events are not uncommon; around one in 80 – 90 pregnancies are thought to be ectopic. By not detecting this condition, the mother is at serious risk of serious internal bleeding leading to death, and damage to the fallopian tube and surrounding structures – in addition to suffering severe pain and psychological trauma.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – many conditions are incorrectly diagnosed as IBS, but in actual fact are other medical problems such as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. IBDs tend to cause structural damage due to inflammation which can be observed during scans or by taking a biopsy, but with IBS, the patient can suffer severe bloating, abdominal pain, but there is no observable damage. In addition, some patients with IBS are misdiagnosed with appendicitis, diverticulitis, and acute or chronic gut infections.
- Stroke – A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted. In the event of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), the blood supply may only be interrupted for a short duration (typically up to 24 hours). Because of their temporary nature, TIAs are sometimes undiagnosed. While TIAs may not cause permanent brain damage, such events can be a warning of the likelihood of a future stroke. By not diagnosing a stroke when presented with headaches and dizziness, doctors risk patients suffering serious medical consequences including permanent loss of function and even death. A stroke misdiagnosis may be made by an A&E doctor, specialist hospital doctor / consultant, GPs, radiologist, or neuroradiologist.
- Sepsis – Medical professionals are now highly attuned to the possibility of sepsis (also referred to as septicaemia) and septic shock. Sepsis is a life-threatening medical condition whereby the body tries to fight infection, but the immune response causes inflammation throughout the body. Sepsis can cause multiple organ failure leading to death if not diagnosed and treated quickly. Symptoms include a high temperature, chills and shivering, a fast heartbeat, fast breathing, and cold, clammy, and pale or mottled skin. If not caught early, patients can lose consciousness as their organs begin to fail. Antibiotics are the primary method of treating sepsis.
Regardless of the medical condition that has been misdiagnosed, IBB Claims will build the most robust case possible, giving you the very best chance of successful. Over many years, we have handled complex cases of clinical misdiagnosis, successfully recovering compensation for our clients; we will do the same for you or your loved one, just call our specialist team today.
Can I bring a compensation claim following medical misdiagnosis?
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a missed, delayed, or incorrect medical diagnosis and your health has been damaged as a result, you may be able to make a claim for any losses and damages you have incurred. A health professional is deemed to have failed in their duty of care to you if another medical expert at the same level would have acted in a different manner.
To bring a successful claim, it will be necessary to provide sufficient medical evidence. Medical evidence will be obtained from medical experts when necessary, and by analysing your clinical notes (from your GP and/or hospital).
How long will I have to bring a claim for medical misdiagnosis?
Whether bringing a claim for hospital misdiagnosis, or GP misdiagnosis, you typically have three years to bring your claim from the date you were given the wrong diagnosis (or the date you became aware of the misdiagnosis) to the point at which your complete claim is formally lodged with the court. If a child was misdiagnosed, the three years applies from their 18th birthday. If the individual who received the misdiagnosis lacks mental capacity, the limitation period may not apply.
If you are unsure if you have a valid case, or if you have sufficient time to make a claim, call IBB Claims today. We have successfully managed complex claims and can tell you if you have a strong case. If we believe your case for medical misdiagnosis compensation is strong, we will offer to take your case on a ‘no win no fee’ basis, giving you the assurance we believe in the merits of your claim, and taking any financial risk off your shoulders, thereby allowing you to focus on your recovery, or that of your loved one.
If you would like further information on making a compensation claim for clinical negligence due to misdiagnosis, please call our office on 0333 123 9099