Why is cancer misdiagnosis on the rise in the UK?
28th March, 2020
Expert Information

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. At Patient Claim Line we have seen an increase in cancer misdiagnosis claims, and in 2019 it was discovered that GPs initially failed to spot two thirds of cancer cases. There is no one clear reason for this, but research has been conducted to help shed light on this very serious issue and how it can be tackled.

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.

rise cancer misdiagnosis

Cancer misdiagnosis can reduce the likelihood of recovery


Reasons for the increase of cancer misdiagnosis

Unfortunately, the number of misdiagnosed cases of cancer has been on the rise in the UK in the last few years – but why? With technology and medical research advancing by the day, you may assume that diagnoses are improving in precision.

There is no one answer to why the increase has occurred, but some of the contributing factors include:

1. Understaffing in the NHS

It’s no secret that the NHS has been struggling with understaffing issues in recent years. In fact, 76% of hospital bosses claim that shortages of staff are currently the NHS’s biggest problem.

Multiple difficulties have arisen as a result of this, and with a further 90% of hospital management expressing concerns that understaffing could damage many patients’ health, it’s easy to see how an increase of misdiagnosis could be a consequence too. 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 NHS is aware of the issue, but unfortunately, the staffing problem cannot be solved overnight.


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


2. Over-reliance on machinery

Using medical machinery is a crucial part of any medical professionals role, but relying too heavily on this kind of technology can be detrimental.

An emerging trend of staff relying on machines more than the skills which they gained during training was noted by The Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board in 2016. The experts believe that this has contributed to an increase in misdiagnosis, and expressed their concerns.

The opinions of the board were based on a number of cases where medical staff provided the wrong diagnosis due to poor interpretation of results created by medical equipment – and it’s easy to see how this could occur with cancer misdiagnosis, where machinery is a crucial part of the diagnosis.

3. 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 unproblematic patients in comparison to patients who were exhibiting difficult behaviours, including:

● 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 if the case was complex, and 6% more likely if the diagnosis was more simple. It’s clear that the mental energy needed to handle this type of behaviour negatively impacts the ability to process the clinical information.

To combat this, researchers propose that medical students and doctors need to be made more aware of the issue. They conclude that this awareness could be extended to members of the public to try and control these behaviours, and encourage them to work more effectively with their GP during a diagnosis.

What to do if you have suffered from cancer misdiagnosis

The misdiagnosis of cancer is on the rise due to a combination of reasons, but regardless, cancer misdiagnosis is never okay. If a doctor misdiagnosed cancer in you or a loved one, it is important to take action and get the justice that you deserve.

Making a claim for compensation starts with a quick call to our team of medical negligence professionals, who can quickly assess your situation to decide if you may have a claim. Our team of specialist lawyers have years of experience in misdiagnosis claims, and are fully trained to handle your case with the utmost empathy and respect.

We understand that a cancer misdiagnosis payout cannot fix the pain that this misdiagnosis has caused, but it is one way of getting a sense of justice and closure for what has happened.

If you have suffered from cancer misdiagnosis, click here to find out more about how we can help you to get the compensation you deserve.