A Missed Opportunity To Save A Life – Missed Lung Cancer Diagnoses
For anyone who receives a diagnosis of cancer, the experience is frightening and deeply unsettling. Over 300,000 people each year are told they have cancer in the UK, and each one then has to fight their own private battle to try to regain their health. However, with modern techniques, 50% of those will go on to survive for more than ten years, but early detection is vital.
In 2014, Cancer Research UK announced 46% of patients diagnosed with cancer had received their diagnosis late, meaning the illness was already at an advanced stage. Catching the disease at its earliest stage is vital to ensuring it does not spread to other parts of the body, as once it does, treatment becomes increasingly problematic, if not impossible. To give some context to the importance of early detection; nine out of ten bowel cancer patients will survive for five years or more if the disease is caught in its early stages. If only first found at stage 3 (a more advanced stage), only one in ten patients receive a five-year life expectancy diagnosis.
Backlog of work is a considerable risk to life
Of course, doctors are not always to blame if a patient dies unnecessarily; it is important to look at the wider context to understand how patient’s lives are put at risk. A health system that is strained or lacks proper processes and governance can lead to a risk of systemic medical negligence. As a case in point, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found in July 2017, Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth had a backlog of 23,000 chest x-rays which had not been reviewed by a radiologist or specialist clinician. In most cases, the only clinicians to view the x-rays were junior doctors, who had not received the appropriate training to do so. The serious risk of this for patient health cannot be overstated.
Unfortunately, the failures of the Queen Alexandra Hospital did result in “significant harm” for three patients, two of which died from lung cancer. In these cases, radiologists were asked to carry out a second x-ray, which revealed the presence of lung cancer. On inspection of the first unchecked x-rays, it was apparent cancer was present and therefore should have been picked up earlier.
According to the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR), concerns of this nature were first raised in March 2015. Their analysis showed the stark reality that in the three years to 2016, the number of CT and MRI scans being undertaken was three times higher than the availability of trained radiologist staff able to read and interpret the scans.
The systemic negligence at Queen Alexandra Hospital, taken with the findings of the RCR may mean that this was not an isolated event; only time will tell. Given the recent news coverage of the extent of NHS over-capacity and resultant failures to provide the expected level of care in many hospitals, this could just be the start of a number of such cases.
Ample but missed opportunities to spot lung cancer
In 2014, the case of Chris Rowe revealed how doctors sometimes misdiagnose the signs of serious illness more than once. Mr Rowe visited his GP with a persistent cough (including coughing up blood), no less than five times over a period of two months; however, it was dismissed as a virus. Tragically for Mr Rowe, it took a visit to A&E for medical staff to realise that not only did he have lung cancer, but the disease had also progressed into his liver and bones. While Mr Rowe went on to receive chemotherapy treatment, he was forced to sell up his plastering business, which he was unable to run while he was ill. While we don’t know the outcome for Mr Rowe, it is apparent that what could have been a quicker course of treatment for early-stage lung cancer and perhaps with a relatively positive prognosis, ended up with a complex set of treatments and surgeries. The moral of the story - early detection of cancer is essential for the best result.
What should you do if you are concerned about a misdiagnosis of a serious illness?
In the age of self-diagnosis, it is common for people to rely on Dr Google and to search for signs and symptoms of a suspected disease on the internet. However, it is vital you prioritise seeking professional medical advice.
If you are worried that your GP has not spotted or has misinterpreted a symptom, in the first instance, tell them. Generally, a clear two-way conversation to remove any ambiguity on either side will clear up any concerns. If you are still not satisfied, you may be able to get a second opinion from another GP. If you have been seen in a hospital either as an outpatient, A&E or inpatient, and you also feel as though something has been missed, again raise this with your lead physician. In general, they will always listen to your concerns. Again, if necessary, you may need to seek a second opinion. Under the NHS, you are not legally entitled to a second opinion; however, based on your concerns, your doctor may assist you with this. You should consider speaking to the hospital’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS), who will be able to help you with any concerns or complaints.
It is important to remember that some cases of clinical negligence are, at their root cause, due to significant pressure in the health system, whereby doctors are subjected to caseloads and schedules that mean they cannot perform their role to the best of their ability. As such, this is reflective of a systemic failure of the funding, resourcing, and possibly management of the health system. Regardless of the underlying cause of the failures, every patient who has been a victim of serious medical negligence has a right to seek compensation. Should you discover your disease was missed completely or misdiagnosed, you may be entitled to claim compensation for medical negligence. A missed diagnosis can dramatically affect your life, therefore don’t be afraid to seek compensation to help you and your family move forward from such a tragic and distressing event.
At Mayiclaim we work with many experienced medical negligence solicitors and are therefore able to choose the most appropriate solicitor for you based on your specific set of circumstances. Each of our recommended solicitors works on a no win, no fee basis. Contact Mayiclaim on 0800 756 7774 or leave your details in the boxes on the left side of this page and press 'Send Your Enquiry' and one of our experienced solicitors will get back to you, to have an initial chat.