A client has settled a medical negligence claim against her GP for delay in referral for investigation of a mole on her foot.

The woman, known only as P to protect her identity, was represented by medical negligence partner Sally-Jean Nicholes and her assistant solicitor Angharad Vaughan.

When P was eventually referred to hospital by her GP for investigation the mole was discovered to be cancerous.

Background to the case

P noticed that a mole on her foot had begun to change its appearance and texture. When it began to itch she visited her GP.

Her GP looked at the mole, did not measure it, and said there was nothing to worry about because it was a regular mole.

P returned to her surgery because she was still worried about the mole and was seen by a different GP.

This GP also looked at the mole, but did not measure it, and said that because it had not increased in size and was a regular shape, it was nothing to worry about. P had to insist that she was referred to hospital. The GP said there was no need for an urgent referral.

When, after a few months, P had still not received a hospital appointment she contacted her surgery. She was seen by another GP who said that the mole could be removed at the surgery rather than hospital.

When the GP examined the mole with a view to removal she decided that she could not remove it but offered to slice the top off the mole as an alternative. P declined this option and asked to be referred to hospital for a further opinion.

After being seen by a dermatologist, the mole was removed immediately and sent for testing.

The pathologist reported that the mole showed an invasive spreading melanoma: skin cancer. P had to undergo extensive removal surgery.

P noticed more symptoms and after investigations it was discovered that the melanoma had metastasised and recurred in other parts of her body.

Sally Jean and her team obtained expert medical evidence which showed that if P had received appropriate care the mole would have been investigated and treated earlier and the prognosis would have been substantially better.

The GP denied liability and Court proceedings were launched following which the GP’s insurers made a substantial offer to settle the case.

Skin cancer

Cancer Research UK has warned that skin cancer mortality rates are rising.

Deaths resulting from malignant melanoma in England and Wales have trebled in the past 40 years and quadrupled in Scotland since 1960. Many scientists have linked this change to the lower cost of holidays abroad, noting the rising levels of UV exposure experienced by the average family.

It is expected that greater awareness of these dangers, especially in children, will slow the rise of skin cancer and that the guidelines published last year will draw attention to correct practice and assist doctors in the care of skin cancer patients.

Medical negligence solicitor Sally Jean Nicholes said:

“In this case the GP did not follow the accepted practice when dealing with a case of suspected skin cancer.

“I hope that the very sad and entirely avoidable predicament our client found herself in will not happen to others, and that GPs are fully aware of the guidelines published by NICE in 2015 offering guidelines on reducing the variation in care of skin cancer.”