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£9m paid out for missed cancer diagnoses

New figures show that the Medical Defence Union has paid out £9m in the past five years to compensate patients for missed or delayed diagnoses of cancer.

These now account for a quarter of all successful legal claims against GPs.

A study of settled GP claims, published in the June issue of the MDU Journal, reveals that malignancies are the most common conditions GPs either failed to diagnose, or diagnosed late leading to a worse prognosis.

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), and the highest compensation award of £500,000 was made to a patient following failure to diagnose malignant melanoma.

A similar review of 1,000 claims made against the Medical Protection Society's GP members has shown that 631 (63%) involved alleged delay in diagnosis.

Of these, 140 (14%) involved a delay in diagnosis of malignancy.

The top three malignancies were breast cancer, cervical cancer and colon cancer.

Dr Karen Roberts, MDU clinical risk manager and author of the study, said: 'Delay in diagnosis is not necessarily negligent and cases can be defended if the clinical management is shown to be competent.'

Avoid a missed diagnosis claim

• Ensure patients know when to return if symptoms have not resolved
• Implement a safe system for following up test results and recalling patients you have particular concerns about
• Take care to note negative as well as positive findings in the patient's notes

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