A recent article on the Daily Mail website highlighted an NHS England plan to speed up cancer diagnosis. The article also highlighted that it is not just cancer diagnoses that may be delayed. The following conditions, along with the possible time to diagnosis and what they are often mistaken for were given:
Can take 7 1/2 years to diagnose – can be mistaken for problem periods or irritable bowel syndrome
Can take 30 years to diagnose – symptoms may not be present in early stages so can be mistaken for fatigue
Can take 13 years to diagnose – can be mistaken for heavy periods causing anaemia, irritable bowel syndrome or poor nutrition
Can take 5 years to diagnose – can be mistaken for depression or hormonal problems
With any claim for a delay in diagnosis of any condition, it has to be shown, firstly, that it was not reasonable for the delay to have occurred. There can be no claim for example, where a patient delays going to see their GP, despite suffering from symptoms, and the GP refers the patient for further investigation.
If it can be shown that the relevant clinician breached their duty of care, in other words was negligent, it then has to be shown that some harm has been caused. So, for example, if the case concerns a delay in diagnosing Hepatitis over decades, it will be necessary to consider what treatment was available at the time that the patient should have been diagnosed. If that treatment was not an effective treatment then it may be difficult to show that any quantifiable harm has been caused. Conversely, if the matter relates to a 6-month delay in diagnosing a fast-growing tumour, then the likelihood is that the treatment and/or survival rate would have been different.