October 11, 2019

Breast cancer diagnosis: are GPs learning from mistakes in primary care?

Shocking statistics were released this week showing that one in four patients with secondary breast cancer had to visit a GP three times before they had a diagnosis.

With time being a critical factor in the treatment of cancer, and the difficulties many people have securing a GP appointment in the over-burdened and under-resourced NHS, this new information shows a concerning level of errors when it comes to treating such a deadly disease.

However, according to partner in our team Paul Rumley who is a specialist in diagnosis failures as recognised in the recent Chambers & Partners Directory, errors may not be the only issue here:

“Whilst the symptoms of secondary breast cancer might be difficult to spot, that may not provide a defence to a patient who claims their diagnosis has been negligently delayed.

The very fact that there is a well-known risk of secondary tumours following breast cancer must surely mean that GPs should have a high level of suspicion and be exercising a low threshold for further investigations with such patients who present with unexplained symptoms following a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

It’s not that the NHS makes errors that is necessarily the most important factor – it’s whether or not they then learn from those errors, using the clinical knowledge we know have about how breast cancer acts, to inform future treatment and therefore patient safety.”

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