Delay in Diagnosis

GPs face increasing patient demands, mainly due to an ageing population and the complexities of their health conditions.

In theory a GP will see a patient who presents with a set of symptoms and signs. They follow a simple process by taking a history, doing an examination, through to reaching a diagnosis. However the diagnostic process is often quite different. When symptoms are missed resulting in a delay in referral to a specialist, this can make the outcome worse for the patient than it would have been if the referral had been made earlier. This is particularly the case with cancer.

More than 300,000 new cancers (excluding skin cancers) are diagnosed annually in the UK, across more than 200 different types of cancer. Approximately one third of the population will develop cancer in their lifetime. The identification of people with possible cancer usually happens at the GP surgery (primary care), because the large majority of people first visit their GP when they have symptoms.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) produces a guideline entitled “Suspected Cancer – Recognition & Referral“. This covers the recognition and selection for referral or investigation in primary care of people of all ages, including children and young people, who may have cancer. It provides recommendations organised by the symptoms and findings of a primary care clinician and in order or urgency of the action needed to make sure the most urgent actions are not missed. This should be utilised by all primary care providers in the UK to ensure that when a patient presents with symptoms potentially indicating cancer, a referral on an urgent or non-urgent basis is made at the earliest opportunity.

Courts take the NICE guidelines very seriously. While not every breach of the guidelines will be found as negligent, any failure to follow them will be difficult to defend unless there is a reasonable and sound purpose for deviating from them.

If you suspect you have been subject to a delay in diagnosis of any kind please do not hesitate to contact our offices.