Written by

Jennifer Argent - Solicitor

Why is cancer misdiagnosis on the rise in the UK?


When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, it’s incredibly important that they are treated quickly and correctly in order to increase their chance of recovery. However, if the cancer is misdiagnosed, treatment can be significantly delayed meaning that treatment timescales are affected – not to mention the distress this can cause for the patient and their family.


Unfortunately, in recent years cancer misdiagnosis has been found to be on the rise in the UK and at Patient Claim Line we have seen a significant increase in cancer misdiagnosis claims. Although the NHS does have targets to catch more cancer cases early on, there has been no improvement on catching cancer early in the last six years. The NHS review of cancer standards does attempt to understand how they can work towards improving diagnosis times because, as we all know, early diagnosis can make all the difference.


What is cancer misdiagnosis?


Cancer misdiagnosis means that the signs of cancer are not spotted by a medical professional, or are presumed to be a different illness. Cancer misdiagnosis is extremely serious, as it often means that the cancer is not properly or quickly treated, which can reduce the likelihood of recovery.


Medical staff have a duty to provide the best possible care for their patients, and missing signs of cancer is a breach of this duty of care. For this reason, if a doctor misdiagnoses cancer, it is considered to be medical negligence.

Reasons for the increase of cancer misdiagnosis


There is no one defining reason for the rise in cases of cancer not being caught early enough. Rather, there are many different causes. You can find more information on cancer misdiagnosis and medical negligence on our dedicated cancer misdiagnosis claims page.


  1. Understaffing in the NHS


It’s no secret that the NHS has been struggling with understaffing issues in recent years. In fact, a Parliamentary report states that there is a shortage of 12,000 doctors in the NHS across the UK and hospital waiting lists have reached a record high of 6.5 million last April.


A lack of medical professionals will inevitably put a strain on existing NHS staff who are required to do more work, meaning that mistakes are more likely to be made and a diagnosis may be rushed or clouded by the stress of the occupation. The number of full-time equivalent GPs fell by more than 700 over the past three years to March 2022, this is after they pledged to deliver 6,000 more GPs. Although the NHS is aware of the issue, unfortunately, the staffing problem cannot be solved overnight.

“Staff relying on machines more than skills could have
contributed to an increase in misdiagnosis.”

  1. Reliance on machinery


Using medical machinery is a crucial part of any medical professionals role, but also comes with its problems.


Around a third of UK NHS trusts are using outdated equipment, which can result in reduced reliability and a higher likelihood of misinterpreted test results – one of the causes of a delayed cancer diagnosis. 

  1. Difficult or disruptive patients


Another contributing factor to the rise of cancer misdiagnosis claims is said to be ‘disruptive or difficult patients’. Researchers tested the ability of a group of doctors to correctly diagnose patients who were exhibiting difficult behaviours, such as:


  • Aggression
  • Questioning the doctor’s competence
  • Ignoring the doctor’s help
  • Presuming the doctor won’t take them seriously


The study found that doctors were 42% more likely to misdiagnose a patient displaying these behaviours. The suggestion is that the mental energy needed to deal with this kind of behaviour impairs a doctor’s abilities. Awareness around handling these behaviours and a drive to ask patients to work with, and not against, their doctor, could be the answer.


Have you suffered a cancer misdiagnosis?


A cancer misdiagnosis is never ever ok, because the consequences can be so devastating. There is help and support available if you have been the victim of a delayed cancer diagnosis. Making a complaint to the NHS rarely provides any closure as complaints take a long time to deal with. Having a medical negligence solicitor handle your case and fight on your behalf is often the only way to get the answers and reparation you need, here at Patient Claim Line, we can help with your cancer misdiagnosis claim. 

Finding out if you have a case just takes one quick phone call. We can’t stop cancer being misdiagnosed but we can help you to start your recovery with the compensation you deserve.


If you have been affected as a result of negligence relating to your breast cancer treatment at Barking Havering and Redbridge University Trust, our expert team is here to help.

Concerned about your medical treatment?

Contact us today!