NHS funds half a million payouts for delayed diagnosis of ovarian cancer


Research by the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has found that the NHS is paying out as much as £550,000 in compensation to women for a delayed diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

Medical Mistake

The MDU is the leading medical defence organisation that provides medical indemnity insurance to doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals who are the subject of medical negligence claims, including claims for delayed diagnosis.

Ovarian cancer is known as the “silent killer” because it frequently does not produce symptoms until a late stage – or symptoms are misdiagnosed because they are similar to the symptoms of other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Early diagnosis of ovarian cancer can be crucial to a patient’s chances of survival for more than five years – around 6,500 women in the UK are diagnosed with the disease every year and every year around 4,000 women in the UK die from the disease. Symptoms include stomach and back pain, bloating and fatigue and these are often confused with gastrointestinal conditions. Some cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed by Accident and Emergency doctors when symptoms become worse and the disease may be advanced.

The MDU said that its review of ovarian cancer cases revealed that women could expect a delayed diagnosis of up to several months – adding that the cancer presented "a significant diagnostic challenge" to GPs and clinicians because of symptoms similar to other non-life threatening conditions.

The MDU review involved 209 complaints about ovarian cancer treatment between 2002 and 2011 – 84% of these related to delayed diagnosis.

In cases where the outcome was known, 59 patients died and 71 claims were made against doctors. Out of the eight cases which have been settled, compensation ranged from £9,000 to £550,000 and seven of these involved a delayed diagnosis. The settlements covered an award for reduced chances of survival, pain and suffering and any financial losses, including loss of earnings.

MDU medico-legal adviser Dr Rachel Sutcliffe said:

“In the majority of cases, the doctor was accused of making an incorrect diagnosis – failing to exclude ovarian cancer when there was a family history of the condition and delays in referring patients for tests or to a specialist were also factors.

“It is understandable for patients and their families to feel that an opportunity has been missed when doctors do not initially make the correct diagnosis – but given the non-specific nature of the symptoms, failure to diagnose ovarian cancer is not necessarily negligent.”

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has produced new guidelines which state that if any woman over the age of 50 has any of the four main symptoms of ovarian cancer, she should be given the CA125 blood test used to diagnose the disease.

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