One in four clinical negligence claims against Irish GPs between 2017 and 2020 involved an alleged delay in the diagnosis or treatment of cancer , according to a new report.
Nearly half of these related to female cancers, the Medical Protection Society (MPS), which indemnifies doctors, has revealed.
MPS analysed more than 2,000 GP cases for its report, including claims, complaints, regulatory cases and requests for a wide range of legal and professional advice.
The report identifies common themes and pitfalls to help GPs learn from these cases and mitigate risk. It said that almost half related to breast cancer, cervical cancer and endometrial cancer.
“Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer involved in the claims reviewed,” the report stated.
Outside of female cancers, prostate cancer was the next most common cancer involved in claims, followed by lung cancer, pancreatic cancer and malignant melanoma.
“Aside from delayed cancer diagnoses, more than 15pc of GP claims related to alleged medication or prescribing errors,” it said.
“And around 10pc involved allegations arising from procedures or minor surgery.”
The age of patients varied from 22 to 74 years with 66pc aged 50 or under.
The report highlighted how issues like inadequate or poor record-keeping, misinterpretation of test results, failure to refer a patient to a specialist earlier or follow up and investigate can be cited as contributory factors.
MPS medical director Dr Rob Henry said: “Claims for compensation in general practice can lead to large financial settlements.
“The value of the settled claim may include compensation for care and loss of earnings, in addition to an award for the damage that resulted from a breach of duty.
“The value of each claim varies enormously with our highest GP total case payment – claimant damages, costs and legal costs – being in excess of €8m.
“The decision to take legal action is influenced not only by the original injury, but also by the patient’s perception of the process, how information was provided and whether or how an explanation and an apology were given.
“We understand GPs work in complex and pressured environments, and we know that experiencing a medicolegal case can be concerning and stressful. At MPS we want to share our knowledge, experience and expertise in order to support members in their everyday clinical practice and reduce their medicolegal risk.
“We’ve studied over 2,000 cases in order to develop this collection of case studies, statistics and analysis and give GPs a view of the current claims environment. It includes common pitfalls and themes that result in a case and, importantly, key learning points to help GPs avoid the problems other have faced.”
Earlier this month, MPS wrote to Justice Minister Helen McEntee, welcoming the Government’s commitment to modernising the court system. The high cost of claims and lengthy proceedings continue to have a negative impact on both patients and healthcare professionals.
GPs are advised they should listen to what their patient would consider to be a successful outcome following any treatment and understand their concerns and expectations.
It said when things go wrong, most patients just want an explanation and an apology.