By Simon Wilson, medical negligence expert and senior solicitor at Neil Hudgell Solicitors
‘Nothing to worry about’ is the diagnosis we all like to hear. We trust our GPs, and we’re happy not to question them.
But the spectre of mis-diagnosis lurks in the background, and with so many cancers now treatable in the early stages, we need to be absolutely sure that our GP has got it right.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt plans to single out doctors found to be dismissing cancer symptoms and failing to send patients for hospital tests soon enough, by identifying them with a ‘red flag’ on the NHS Choices website. If they quickly refer patients to hospital, they will be ranked as ‘green’ for cancer.
In most cases, cancer is spotted after one or two visits to a GP, but Mr Hunt thinks there are too many cases where this isn’t happening.
As Senior Medical Negligence expert at Neil Hudgell Solicitors, I know only too well the devastation cancer misdiagnosis can cause families, and if this initiative helps address that issue, I welcome it.’
One in ten cancer sufferers see their GP at least five times before being referred to hospital. Every year, 80,000 people are only diagnosed when they arrive at A&E, in part because of misdiagnosis by GPs.
We spend a lot of time helping clients to rebuild their lives, but when a family is seeking compensation for the loss of a loved one that might have been avoided, that’s particularly tragic.
Mr Hunt told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Cancer diagnosis levels around the country vary significantly and we must do much more to improve both the level of diagnosis and to bring those GP practices with poor referral rates up to the standards of the best.’
Nick Bason, Head of Policy at Bowel Cancer UK, said: ‘Anything that encourages GPs to rule out cancer first, rather than last, would be a good thing.’
However, Dr Richard Roope, spokesperson for the Royal College of GPs, feared doctors might be wrongly labelled. He said: ‘We know that we can always improve, but using crude ranking systems to measure our performance and ability to care for our patients, may not tell the whole story.’
There are also fears the plan could prompt GPs to send in patients indiscriminately for cancer tests in order to get their green flag effectively leading to defensive medicine.
I’ll be monitoring Mr Hunt’s strategy. No one would be happier than me to see a steady fall in the number of misdiagnosis claims we deal with.