Whether it’s chest pains, a constant cough or intense back pain, when most of us get ill we turn to the medical profession for a quick and reliable diagnosis. However, the huge rise in misdiagnosis claims made against the National Health Service suggests our trust in doctors may sometimes be misplaced.

In 2016/2017, the NHS paid out £1.024 billion for diagnoses which were either too late, were missed, or were just plain wrong. What’s more, 1,534 successful claims were brought against the NHS, 28% more than the year before and the highest number in six years of data provided in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request 1.

So, with growing debate around the cost of NHS payouts, we decided to delve deeper into its huge compensation bill. Are misdiagnosis claims on the rise? Which are the worst performing regions and NHS Trusts? And are men or women more at risk from NHS diagnostic errors?

Using data acquired from the NHS itself, we discovered alarming findings on the scale and geographical spread of NHS misdiagnosis over the past six years.

What are the different types of misdiagnosis?

Misdiagnosis claims tend to fall into two categories –

  1. those where a doctor fails to spot an injury, illness or condition, or spots it too late (which we call a failure to diagnose or a delayed diagnosis) and
  2. those where a different illness is diagnosed than the actual problem (we call this wrong diagnosis)

Our analysis shows that the number of successful claims for failed or delayed diagnosis is far higher than those for wrong diagnosis. Furthermore, while the number of wrong diagnosis claims made in 2016/2017 was lower than five years ago, the number of failed or delayed diagnosis claims has been on an upward trend since 2011/2012.

What’s causing this rise in misdiagnosis claims?

Despite these concerning figures, there is little to suggest that the abilities and/or good intentions of our medical professionals have changed. Therefore, there must be something more fundamental going on to explain why, in the face of advances in medical research and diagnostic technology, claims are on the rise.

One possible conclusion to be drawn from the escalating numbers of failed or delayed diagnosis claims is to link them to the increasing resource and funding pressures placed upon an already stretched NHS. Doctors and nurses are being asked to do more than ever, with the same or less resource, against a backdrop of unprecedented demand from an aging population. With this pressure come shorter consultations, a pressure to free up hospital beds and an over-reliance on conservative treatments. Occasionally, an overreliance upon a ‘watch and wait’ approach rather than employing more proactive or interventional care can also lead to delays in treatment.

It has also been well documented that some junior doctors are being asked to do far too much, too soon in their careers, without adequate senior supervision. This too is likely to provide some insight into why diagnoses are being missed or delayed – sometimes with catastrophic consequences.

If you’ve experienced substandard care that has resulted in an injury or caused your condition to get worse, we can help. Our team of friendly solicitors have a wealth of experience in securing payouts from the NHS, and could help you gain compensation. Get in touch today to find out how we can help with medical negligence claims.

1 The information is based on a Freedom of Information request made by Bolt Burdon Kemp to the NHS on 14th September 2017