As medical negligence specialist solicitors, we sadly see the huge impact late diagnosis of serious illnesses such as cancer can have on an individual, and those who love them.
Quite simply, early detection is vital and impacts the level of treatment they may have to undergo, and often ultimately their chances of recovery.
With that in mind, it is quite horrifying to read the findings of a study today which claims family doctors are failing to spot cancer in tens of thousands of patients each year.
In the research by Cambridge University, University College London and Public Health England, published in the national media today, an estimated 32,000 patients are believed to have visited their GPs three times without their cancer being diagnosed.
The report also says seven in 10 people whose illness is picked up in casualty, have had it missed by a GP.
These estimated figures are alarming, and further highlight the need for both patients and their families to be aware that GPs don’t always get things right, and that concerns over continued ill-health should never be ignored.
Demand thorough tests or even a second opinion if GPs fail to address health concerns
The best advice when visiting your doctor is not to go simply seeking good news, but look for clear answers which you feel adequately explain how you have been feeling, and an assessment or treatment plan which you feel is appropriate.
We know it is easy to forget the key questions and concerns on your mind when sat in front of a GP, mainly because you are hoping they’ll tell you that you’ve been worrying for nothing, and for that reason it is often a good idea to take a loved one with you if possible.
As specialists in handling cases of medical negligence and misdiagnosis, our team at Hudgell Solicitors far too often see people given ‘good news’ by GPs only to find out at a later stage that their fears and worries had actually been justified, and that the problem causing them to be unwell had been missed.
This report highlights how this is happening across the country, with women and younger patients found to be more likely to have their symptoms overlooked, even for common cancers.
A spokeswoman for Breast Cancer Care has said the charity’s research showed that a third of patients with incurable breast cancer did not feel doctors had listened to them, but as a patient, you have the right to ask for a second opinion.
Although there is no legal right to receive one, it is actually very rare that a healthcare professional will refuse, and a family member or carer can also request this on your behalf with your consent, so there is never a need to feel dismissed and unable to get answers.
Improvements must be made as misdiagnosis errors often prove fatal
The study examined 4,647 cancer patients diagnosed in English A&E units in 2010. Their survival chances were far lower than in cases detected through scans or by specialists.
Seventy-one per cent had seen their GP – 59 per cent of them once or twice and 41 per cent at least three times. Patients with the most common types of cancer whose symptoms should be obvious were initially misdiagnosed, according to the study in the British Journal of General Practice.
In the UK each year, about 78,500 cases are diagnosed in A&E. If these findings are representative, it has been estimated that 32,000 of these patients saw their GP three times or more.
At Hudgell Solicitors, we have sadly represented people who have lost their lives far too early as a result of a failure to diagnose cancer.
In her case, the GP had identified ‘red flag’ symptoms and referred her to a specialist, who sadly dismissed the case as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) without carrying out a colonoscopy.
Father-of-two Wayne Evans was failed by his GP surgery, which organised for tests on his bowel after he had been feeling unwell, but then failed to inform him he needed surgery to remove a growth. Three years later he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer.
Both incredibly sad cases resulted in the loss of loved ones due to medical specialists failing to diagnose cancer earlier. Basic errors were made which cost lives.
These figures released today suggest there could be many more lives being needlessly lost across the UK, or many people left with long-term illnesses which could have been less life-restricting with the correct diagnosis and appropriate care.
There are clearly lessons to be learned throughout the health service and improvements to be made.
The lesson for patients is to demand thorough examinations and explanations of their illness, and to be prepared to question and challenge the care provided if you have concerns.