Alleged Delayed Diagnosis or Treatment of Cancer make up 25% of Negligence Claims against GPs in Ireland

A new report produced by the Medical Protection Society (MPS) has revealed that 25% of clinical negligence claims submitted against Irish General Practitioners during the time period from 2017 to 2020 involved an alleged delay in the diagnosis or treatment of cancer.

Other statistics revealed in the the study that reviewed more than 2,000 GP cases for its report, including claims, complaints, regulatory cases and requests for a wide range of legal and professional advice included that almost 50% of these claims were linked to female cancers.

In addition to this almost half of the claims were connected to breast cancer, cervical cancer and endometrial cancer. Prostate cancer was second most common cancer identified in claims, followed by lung cancer, pancreatic cancer and malignant melanoma.

The age of patients ranged from 22 to 74 years with 66pc aged 50 or less.

The report stated that: “Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer involved in the claims reviewed. Aside from delayed cancer diagnosis, more than 15pc of GP claims related to alleged medication or prescribing errors. And around 10pc involved allegations arising from procedures or minor surgery.”

The report highlighted contributory factors such as inadequate or poor record-keeping, misinterpretation of test results, failure to refer a patient to a specialist earlier or follow up and investigate.

MPS medical director Dr Rob Henry said: “Claims for compensation in general practice can lead to large financial settlements. The value of the settled claim may include compensation for care and loss of earnings, in addition to an award for the damage that resulted from a breach of duty. The value of each claim varies enormously with our highest GP total case payment – claimant damages, costs and legal costs – being in excess of €8m.

It went one: “The decision to take legal action is influenced not only by the original injury, but also by the patient’s perception of the process, how information was provided and whether or how an explanation and an apology were given. We understand GPs work in complex and pressured environments, and we know that experiencing a medicolegal case can be concerning and stressful. At MPS we want to share our knowledge, experience and expertise in order to support members in their everyday clinical practice and reduce their medicolegal risk.

“We’ve studied over 2,000 cases in order to develop this collection of case studies, statistics and analysis and give GPs a view of the current claims environment. It includes common pitfalls and themes that result in a case and, importantly, key learning points to help GPs avoid the problems other have faced.”

The reports included finding and recommendations to say that GPs should pay closer attention to what their patient would consider to be a successful outcome in the aftermath of any treatment and understand their concerns and expectations.

It also said that the report discovered that patients just want an explanation and an apology in the unfortunate event of something going wrong.