The recent tragic case of 18-year-old Georgia Marrison, whose cancer went misdiagnosed until it was too late, raises a number of issues when it comes to diagnosing cancer.
For many of us, the first port of call when we feel unwell is our GP. We expect our GP to have the requisite knowledge either to provide us with the appropriate advice or medication, or to refer us to someone with the relevant expertise.
However, as in this case, it is possible for GPs to miss crucial signals that indicate something more serious is going on and therefore misdiagnose a severe illness as something more trivial. Here, Georgia’s weight loss was attributed to nothing more than her apparent desire to be thin.
When cancer goes undiagnosed, cells in a specific part (or parts) of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably to the extent that the chances of survival are severely reduced. Georgia’s cancer went undiagnosed for a whole five months. She died less than a month later.
GPs are on the frontline when it comes to the initial presentation of symptoms, and have numerous factors to consider with every patient they assess. They may perhaps also be without the resources and expertise to ensure every diagnosis hits the mark. Likewise, it is not in a GPs interest to instil panic in their patients nor to put unnecessary pressure on the NHS with an excessive number of referrals, particularly in cases where a cancer diagnosis seems very unlikely.
This case does, however, raise concerns that despite having adequate technology to prevent, cure or, at the very least slow down the progression of awful diseases. The simple omission to not refer a patient to a specialist may diminish that patient’s chances of recovery, leading to their tragic and, in some cases avoidable, death.
Georgia’s case also highlights the risks specific to medical practitioners who appear reluctant to make a diagnosis of cancer in young people. Perhaps if Georgia had been older, a diagnosis of cancer would have been considered as more likely and, as a result of which, a diagnosis may have come about more quickly.
Georgia’s case is reminiscent of Sorcha Glenn, who we have previously blogged about. The national age for smear tests was raised in 2003 from age 20 to 25 and routine cervical screening is now only available every three years to women aged between 25 and 49 and every five years for women aged 50 to 64. Sorcha died of cervical cancer at the age of 23 years.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers have commented on the NHS’s failure to meet its 2014 “cancer target” in a recent blog: Beating the Cancer Clock: NHS Failing to Meet Cancer Targets
The current operational standards set by the Government state that 85% of cancer patients should receive treatment within 62 days following a referral made by their GP. Only 84.1% received treatment in that time period in late 2014.
Whilst this is an admittedly high standard, the fact that it is so high, demonstrates that immediate treatment once a cancer diagnosis is made is absolutely crucial to the life expectancy and survival of each cancer sufferer.
Earlier diagnosis often leads to better outcomes for cancer patients. The NHS must maintain its high standards following diagnosis, at which point any delay in providing the appropriate treatment must be deemed inexcusable.
But the real risk seems to be when patients are not referred on by their GP on the basis that a cancer diagnosis is improbable. If relevant symptoms occur, investigations should ensue, so that, by the time appropriate specialists with adequate equipment are in a position to provide treatment, it has not become too late to make a real difference.
Lauren Tully is a Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers help people who have suffered from delayed or wrong diagnosis of cancer due to Medical Negligence.
For a free consultation call the Medical Negligence Solicitors at Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online and we will call you.