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Why We Need to Hold Doctors Accountable for Medical Misdiagnosis12th Mar 2018

by David Simpson on 12th Mar 2018

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When you seek advice from a medical professional, whether it’s your GP, at an A&E department, or when you’re referred to a specialist, you expect to receive a diagnosis. You would expect the doctor or nurse to be competent at diagnosing diseases, injuries, infections, etc., and capable of recommending the right course of treatment.

Yet unfortunately, misdiagnoses and negligent treatment occur far more often than we’d like to think.

The Department of Health in the UK estimates that 10% of patients who are admitted as inpatients suffer an ‘adverse event’ – instances which indicate or may indicate that a patient has received poor quality care. Not all of these patients make a claim for medical negligence, and less than 2% of them result in court action – but the number is on the rise.

Misdiagnosis can occur when lab results are not correctly interpreted, x-rays are misread, symptoms are missed, or from the medical’s professionals ineptitude.

We all know that our NHS does a fantastic job in the majority of cases – and with an ever more restricted budget as our population continues to increase – but occasionally, treatment falls below expected standards, or a doctor can be careless, neglectful or even incompetent.


Types of Diagnosis Error

Making the correct diagnosis is the first step towards treating a patient and hopefully making them better. Get this first step wrong, and the whole course of treatment could go wrong – risking making the patient’s condition even worse.

There are 3 types of diagnosis error that a healthcare professional could make:

Failure to diagnose

This occurs when the doctor believes that the patient is actually healthy, or they cannot figure out what is wrong. They may not perform all the tests required, or simply miss signs and symptoms which should have led to the correct diagnosis. If a doctor cannot figure out the diagnosis themselves, they should ask for a second opinion, but this doesn’t always happen.  

Delay in diagnosis

This is when a doctor does correctly diagnose a condition but takes too long to do so, risking the patient’s condition deteriorating – sometimes dangerously so. This can occur with rare conditions which are particularly difficult to diagnose, or because the doctor failed in their duty of care. For many medical conditions it is vital to diagnose the condition as quickly as possible – for example, heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiac conditions which need immediate attention to prevent further harm.


This is the term for when a doctor does diagnose a condition, but the diagnosis is incorrect. Not only does this mean the patient suffers from a failure to diagnose and delay in diagnosis, but they might also receive treatment for a condition that they don’t have.

A common example of misdiagnosis is misdiagnosed cancer – both being told you do have cancer when you don’t, and being told you don’t have cancer when you do. The physical and psychological impact of this kind of misdiagnosis can be devastating.  


Commonly Misdiagnosed Conditions

Some conditions are misdiagnosed more often than others. These include:

  • Cancer misdiagnosis – if a diagnosis is incorrect or late, cancer can be harder to treat
  • Appendicitis misdiagnosis – delays to treatment can lead to a ruptured appendix, which can be very serious
  • Kidney failure misdiagnosis – symptoms can often be associated with other conditions, so misdiagnosis is common
  • Cauda Equina misdiagnosis – must be diagnosed and treated within 24-48 hours, or the patient could suffer life-changing and irreversible effects
  • Birth complications – failing to correctly diagnose issues during birth can result in trauma, injury or illness to you or your baby
  • Fracture misdiagnosis – can lead to serious complications if not correctly diagnosed, including compartment syndrome, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), non-union or mal union, osteomyelitis, or vascular necrosis

Some of the repercussions which could occur as a result of misdiagnosis include:

  • Continuation of potentially painful symptoms
  • Pain from improper medication administration
  • Advancement of the untreated condition
  • Elevated blood pressure due to pain and stress
  • Unnecessary surgery
  • Development of additional medical complaints
  • In the most extreme cases, death


What Makes Care Negligent?

In order to establish whether your medical care was negligent, you will need to prove:

  • That the healthcare professional owed you a duty of care to not cause you injury or harm
  • There was a breach in that duty of care
  • That you suffered harm as a direct result of that breach
  • That damages and other losses (e.g. earnings) have resulted from that harm and breach of care

If you can demonstrate all of the above, then the person or medical institution responsible needs to be held accountable – and you could be entitled to claim compensation.


Why Doctors Need to be Held Accountable

If you have suffered due to a medical misdiagnosis you should seek professional legal advice as soon as possible. It’s also wise to make a formal complaint through the NHS complaints procedure – you won’t receive any compensation through this process, but it can be helpful to obtain more information about exactly what happened.

There is a 3 year time limit to bring court proceedings from either when the incident happened, or when you first became aware of negligent treatment causing significant injury. Different considerations apply to children, those lacking sufficient mental capacity, or where a claimant has died.

When someone suffers through another person’s negligence, it can throw their whole life into disarray. It’s important that they are recompensed for additional medical expenses, loss of time, other damages such as loss of earnings, and the suffering they have endured due to the misdiagnosis. In the worst cases, a misdiagnosis can tragically lead to premature death. But for many, compensation can help to rebuild their lives after their illness.

Getting compensation for yourself is not the only reason to hold negligent medical professionals accountable for their actions. It’s vital to prevent other people suffering at their hands, and help improve the overall quality of the healthcare service.

In the most severe breaches of duty of care, the healthcare professional may be subjected to criminal prosecution which could result in a custodial sentence, or a GMC fitness to practice hearing which could see them struck off.

If just one patient can be saved from harm, it’s worth the effort.


If you think you could have a claim for misdiagnosis, get in touch with our specialist medical negligence solicitors today. We offer No Win, No Fee funding agreements, and a free initial chat to establish whether you have a claim – book yours now.

This document is not intended to constitute and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice on any specific matter. No liability for the accuracy of the content of this document, or the consequences of relying on it, is assumed by the author. If you seek further information, please contact Managing Partner Neil Andrews at Coles Miller Solicitors LLP.