Misdiagnosis on routine screening in national screening programs (cervical check and breast check)
The most prominent and well known recent examples of misdiagnosis in a medical negligence context come from the scandals associated with the national screening systems, such as Cervical Check (also see here) and Breast Check (also see here).
We act in many cases where there has been a failure to properly diagnose cancer as a result. In the case of breast cancer and cervical cancer this can necessitate more aggressive treatment than would otherwise have been necessary, including unnecessary mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy for example, and generally resulting in increased morbidity.
This has come to national attention in particular as a result of systemic failure in a national screening program, where there has been large scale misdiagnosis. A woman may have gone for, or been called for, a routine screening. Then, their results would have been sent to a laboratory, and they would have received a response back to the effect that everything was okay.
In the case of Breast Check, there should be a multi-disciplinary approach involving a three-step procedure including ultrasound, fine needle aspiration and biopsy. A failure to follow the procedure correctly can result in a failure to diagnose the malignancy.
In most cases involving cancer misdiagnosis, the medical negligence aspect of the matter is concerned with the question of the prejudice suffered by the patient as a result of the continued advancement of the disease up until a proper diagnosis result is actually made correctly.
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Misdiagnosis following attendance with a GP or medical practitioner
In addition to routine screening as part of public health programmes, one can also have the situation where a woman goes to the doctor with a particular symptom or concern, for instance going to see your GP after discovering a lump. We have acted in many cases where women were referred to a hospital, an ultrasound was done, and they were told that everything was fine. Then on subsequent screening or investigation, they found out that they had cancer and that it had since become significantly advanced in the meantime, and should certainly have been picked up had the proper test been done when they first sought medical help on the issue.
Typically in these cases, the patient has discovered a symptom and has a concern and is worried, and goes to their GP, who refers them to the appropriate service. So the first question is, whether or not the GP takes the necessary action and makes the necessary referral. The question of what initial action should be taken by the GP is, of course, itself a medical one that will depend on a variety of criteria including the circumstances presented, the age of the woman etc. in order to determine the appropriate mode of treatment. But the first question that arises is what action was taken by the GP following the initial consultation and examination.
The next question to consider will be the action of the screening service to which the patient was referred. For instance, in a breast cancer context, an ultrasound alone may not be sufficient and we have seen many cases where an ultrasound is clear but there was a lump and the failure to refer the lump on for future investigation meant that an opportunity for an earlier diagnosis and treatment of the cancer was missed at a crucial point.
Other common areas where medical misdiagnosis can arise
Frequently Asked Questions
Some of the questions often posed to our medical negligence team.
What is the legal definition of medical misdiagnosis?
Medical misdiagnosis refers to a situation where a healthcare professional gives an incorrect, missed, or delayed diagnosis regarding a patient's medical condition. This can involve failing to identify a condition, wrongly identifying a condition as another, or significant delays in diagnosis that lead to harm. For it to be considered negligence, it must be proven that the misdiagnosis fell below the standard of care expected from a competent medical professional and directly caused harm or worsened the patient's condition.
Can I bring a claim for medical misdiagnosis?
To pursue compensation for medical misdiagnosis, you must demonstrate that inadequate care or lack of care exacerbated your pain or suffering. Eligibility for a claim arises if the misdiagnosis resulted in pain, discomfort, disability, diminished life expectancy, or any form of suffering. Consider, for instance, suffering from undetected internal bleeding that caused additional harm. If your pain and suffering intensified due to the oversight in diagnosing and treating your condition, you may qualify for compensation.
How will a solicitor help me in bringing a misdiagnosis claim?
Your solicitor will guide you through the process of filing a misdiagnosis claim. They will evaluate the validity of your claim, advise on the evidence required, such as medical records and expert testimonies, and represent your interests in negotiations or court. Their expertise ensures that your case is presented effectively, aiming to secure the compensation you deserve for the harm suffered. They'll handle legal procedures and communications, allowing you to focus on your recovery while they work to achieve a favourable outcome.
In what scenarios is a misdiagnosis claim likely to be unsuccessful?
A misdiagnosis claim may be unsuccessful if it's shown that the healthcare professional acted in line with accepted medical practices and standards at the time of diagnosis, making the misdiagnosis reasonable under those circumstances. Additionally, if there's insufficient evidence to prove that the misdiagnosis directly caused harm or worsened the condition, the claim may fail. Claims might also falter if the patient's own actions contributed significantly to the negative outcome, or if the claim is made outside the legal time limits for filing such cases, known as the statute of limitations.
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About McCarthy + Co
With more than 30 years of experience in dealing with medical misdiagnosis claims, McCarthy + Co. has expertise in a wide variety of fields relating to negligence and personal injury, including medical misdiagnosis cases. We are a family-run business, and we pride ourselves on offering honest, impartial and helpful advice.
Our offices are based in Dublin and Cork but we work with clients throughout Ireland in locations ranging from Galway to Waterford. You can count on us for legal advice, guidance and assistance in relation to any type of medical negligence case.
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Flor McCarthy wears multiple hats, not only as the managing partner of one of Ireland’s leading law firms, but also as an author, speaker and an acknowledged expert in client service, innovation and marketing.
Beginning his academic journey at UCC, Flor furthered his education with a master’s degree in law from UCD. After gaining valuable experience as a solicitor in Dublin, the allure of home and the family brought him back to West Cork to contribute his expertise to the family business.
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John McCarthy is a seasoned solicitor with almost 20 years of experience, specialises in personal injury and medical negligence claims, focusing particularly on high-value compensation cases. His extensive litigation experience spans Circuit Court, High Court and Supreme Court levels.
John's practice involves a diverse range of cases, from personal injury and wrongful death to property damage, defective products, professional negligence and judicial reviews.