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Cancer diagnosis failures the leading cause of claims against GPs

By Gareth Iacobucci

GPs are being advised to place extra scrutiny on early symptoms and signs of malignancy, after medical defence experts revealed that delayed or missed cancer diagnoses are the most frequent cause of claims against GPs.

The Medical Defence Union's analysis of 620 claims settled over a five year period shows that 24% of cases were connected to delay or failure to diagnose malignancy, with breast, bowel and skin cancer featuring most frequently.

The advice follows a study in the British Journal of General Practice which identified eight early symptoms and signs indicative of cancer for specific age and sex groups.

Dr Jacqui Phillips, MDU medico-legal adviser, said: ‘Symptoms and signs of cancer can be difficult to distinguish from other less serious conditions so this study is helpful in identifying the key symptoms GPs should look out for. In the MDU's experience, a delayed or missed diagnosis is the commonest reason for a claim to be settled against our GP members and cancers are the most frequent condition missed.'

'Of course, it is important to point out that a delay in diagnosis is not necessarily negligent. GPs can be defended successfully if their clinical management is shown to be competent and reasonable.'

‘In addition to being vigilant for symptoms and signs that may be indicative of cancer, there are a number of helpful guidelines for doctors, such as the NICE guidelines on referral for suspected cancer, which can help GPs make decisions about when to refer a patient.'

Missed or delayed skin cancer diagnoses are one of the most common causes of claims against GPs Missed or delayed skin cancer diagnoses are one of the most common causes of claims against GPs

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